Thesis Supervisor: Neri Oxman, PhD
Associate Professor, MIT Media Lab, Media Arts and Sciences, MIT
Joseph A. Paradiso, PhD
Professor, MIT Media Lab, Media Arts and Sciences, MIT
Daniela L. Rus, PhD
Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
Digital fabrication approaches can be classified with respect to two basic attributes: (1) the degree of material tailorability, and (2) the level of collaboration between fabrication units. Conventional manufacturing is typically confined to only one of these attribute axes; with certain approaches utilizing sophisticated tailorable materials but virtually no collaboration; and others assembling pre-fabricated building blocks with high levels of intercommunication between fabrication units. A similar pattern is mirrored in biological systems: silkworms—for example—deposit a multifunctional tailorable material with minimal communication between organisms; while ants, bees and termites operate as multi-agent communicative entities assembling larger constructs out of simple, unifunctional, ’generic’ materials.
The purpose of this thesis is to depart from these uniaxial manufacturing approaches and develop a novel swarm-inspired distributed digital fabrication method capable of printing tailorable multifunctional materials that is also collaborative. This research merges fiber-based digital fabrication and swarm-based logic to produce a system capable of digitally fabricating complex objects and large-scale architectural components through a novel multi-robotic fabrication paradigm. I hypothesize that this Design approach—its theoretical foundations, methodological set up and related tools and technologies—will ultimately enable the Design of large-scale structures with high spatial resolution in manufacturing that—like biological swarms—can tune their material make-up relative to their environment during the process of construction.
Building on the insights derived from case study projects, fabricating with silkworms, ants and bees, I demonstrate the design and deployment of a multi-robotic system erecting a 4.5-meter tall structure from fiber composites.
My thesis addresses the current limitations of digital fabrication, namely: (a) the material limitation—through automated digital fabrication of structural multi-functional materials; (b) the gantry limitation—through the construction of large components from a swarm of cooperative small-scale robots; and (c) the method limitation—through digital construction methods that are not limited to layered manufacturing, but also support free-form printing (i.e., 3D-printing without support materials), CNC woven constructions and digitally aggregated constructions.