CableBots: Distributed Additive Manufacturing
The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel involved a deliberate plan hatched by mankind to construct a platform from which man could fight God. The tower represented the first documented attempt at constructing a vertical city. The divine response to the master plan was to sever communication by instilling a different language in each builder. Tragically, the building's ultimate destruction came about through the breakdown of communications between its fabricators. In this research we redeem the Tower of Babel by creating its antithesis. We construct a virtuous, decentralized yet communicative building environment of cable-suspended fabrication bots that together build structures bigger than themselves. We explore themes of asynchronous motion, multi-nodal fabrication, lightweight additive manufacturing, and the emergence of form through fabrication. We demonstrate the system with a novel computational and digital fabrication environment that combines a centralized system that is designed to manage top-down design intent and global environmental variables, with a decentralized system locally computing multi-machine rule-based collision, motion, building behavior, and material deposition properties in a bottom-up manner. Specifically, we achieve (1) multi-robot cooperation in building structures bigger than each robot’s envelope; (2) robot behavior informed by material properties and environmental conditions during the construction process, which hints at new workflows of fabrication-informed modeling; (3) structure emergence with only punctual designer’s input opening up approaches of long distance fabrication. Tools such as this one can be deployed for large-scale construction by attaching a distributed fabrication system to existing objects in the built environment. Cables from each robot can be connected to stable high points, such as large trees or buildings. This actuation arrangement allows for moving large distances without the need for conventional linear guides. A cable suspended system is straightforward to set up for mobile projects and affords sufficient printing resolution and build volume. In future implementations, sensing feedback can play a key role in the design and development of the agents’ rule-based behavior. Ideas, methods, products and techniques of this tool are developed to support on-going group research focusing on large-scale distributed fabrication systems.
With gratitude to alumni Carlos D. Gonzalez de Uribe and collaborator Dr. James Weaver (Wyss Institute, Harvard University), as well as the MIT Media Lab and the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennial for their support.