Researchers and students from the University of Stuttgart have used robots and drones to weave a unique, 39-foot composite pavilion inspired by moth webs. The research pavilion, based at the university’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), is a singular cantilever structure that was created by laying a combined total of 114 miles of GFRP and CFRP composites.
The design of the pavilion, led by Stuttgart professors Jan Knippers and Achim Menges, resembles silk hammocks spun by two species of moth larvae. The structure itself was manufactured offsite through a process the researchers refer to as “Multi-Machine Cyber-Physical Fabrication.”
During the process, two stationary industrial robotic arms with the strength and precision necessary for fiber winding are placed at the extremities of the structure, while an autonomous drone is utilized to pass the fiber from one side to the other. Additionally, an adaptive control and communication system was developed to allow the robot and the drone to interact throughout the winding and fiber laying processes.
An integrated sensor interface allowed the robot and the drone to adapt their behaviors, in real time, to the changing conditions during fabrication. The drone could fly and land autonomously without the need of human pilots, the tension of the fiber was actively and adaptively controlled in response to both the drone and robot behaviors. A separate system was utilized to create a digital and physical “handshake” between the robot and the drone in order to pass the fiber back and forth throughout the winding process.
Researchers believe the pavilion further demonstrates the potential of robotic winding of architectural composite structures. In the United States, that potential was on display during last year’s Composites Pavilion at the American Institute of Architects show in Philadelphia.
“Fiber composite materials have tremendous potential in architectural applications,” the researchers wrote. “Due to performative material characteristics, they are readily used in highly engineered applications, such as in the automotive and aerospace industries. The potentials within architecture, however, remain still largely unexplored. Within architectural scale production, where material self-weight is of high concern for larger span structures, lightweight fiber composites provide unparalleled performance.”
The pavilion is the latest in a series of projects by the university. Last year, Menges wowed the architecture world with the Elytra Pavilion – another robotically-wound composite structure inspired by beetle wings.
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