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In contrast to existing robotic fabrication practice in which robots are programmed to follow toolpaths and designers prostrate themselves at the mercy of unruly material, the Dabpod is an architectural prototype that investigates how limitations in controlling the behaviour of extruded plastic can reframe ideas of material agency and lead to novel formal applications and design effects.

Research focus

Although an industrial robot is an extremely precise instrument, the behaviour of a dab of plastic as it is deposited onto a surface is imprecise and subject to failure. The heated plastic can drip at unusual speeds, become too viscous or fail to adhere to the existing structure. Extruded forms built up in layers can sag or shrink as they cool, leading to the accumulation of small errors and an eventual catastrophic failure of the fabrication. Through the design of feedback between generative algorithms and material behaviour, vision systems and interlocking structures, the Dabpod expresses and relies upon intrinsic unpredictability and variation.

In order to facilitate this design research we have developed custom robotic control software that incorporates a vision system into a digital simulation that makes design decisions on the fly. Digital models that dynamically react to typically avoided material behaviour (slumping, stretching, inflating, dripping) produces an incredible wealth of formal and expressive novelty and allow large scale assemblies to be produced as small errors do not accumulate as they do in typical autonomous extrusion processes. Simultaneous design and manufacturing is innovative in the field of architectural robotics and design and has already contributed to several research publications (RobArch, ASWEC). The research has ramifications for industry partners in the capability to work with material that is discarded due to inconsistencies.

Industry collaborators

The team have spoken to Simon Gray (VISY) and discussed how byproduct and defect material from plastic recycling processes may be uniquely suited to lowaccuracy and highvolatility fabrication processes. VISY has expressed significant interest in applications for products that are currently sitting in landfill, and we hope to develop a collaboration in which solutions are found for products such as glass fines, preform defects and mixed plastic pellets. VISY will sponsor material costs associated with HDPE plastic extrusion and will provide expertise in the form of material consultation. We have also spoken to Jason Jansz (SIKA Australia) regarding the use of polyurethane foam and quick set adhesives in the project and have received support in the form of material sponsorship.

Commercial potential

Building capabilities in robotic feedback systems and coloured HDPE extrusion has applications well beyond the scope of the Meeting Room brief. Discussions with VISY suggest that a capacity to work with volatile material has significant commercial viability as large quantities of waste material can be freely acquired. Plastic extrusion is finding increasing commercial potential in large scale ‘3dprinting’ applications. Our scanning and robotic control capabilities will allow us to overcome the limitations of material inconsistency and accuracy in this process and develop applications at the architectural scale of building components as prototyped in the Dabpod. The development of a CMYK end effector (in collaboration with the AMP) may lead to commercial patents.

Post occupancy

A post occupancy evaluation will take place with Sarah Pink.

Team Listing
Gwyllim Jahn ­ Design Lead, James Pazzi ­ Fabrication Lead, Julian Rutten ­ Mechatronics Consultation + Software Developer, Chris Ferris
Industry Partners
Simon Gray (VISY), Jason Jansz (SIKA Australia)
Date: 2015
Status: Ongoing