Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Museum Displays Robotic Building System 

A bright-orange robotic arm creates furniture out of small metal cubes at Atlanta's High Museum.

Visitors to Atlanta's High Museum look onward as a bright-orange robot creates furniture out of small metal cubes using a modular design strategy reminiscent of LEGOs. Nearby, several already-constructed ornate side tables are on display.

High Museum by flickr's Lee CourseyCreated by Dutch designer Joris Laarman, the kinetic "Digital Matter" installation — equal parts art, science and design — is currently on display as part of the High Museum's "Modern by Design" exhibition.

Laarman programs the funky-looking robotic arm to build the tables based on a digital blueprint. Working from the top down, constructing first the top then the legs, the robot translates the instructions into familiar three-dimensional objects using small building blocks known as voxels, or volumetric pixels. Different levels of resolution can be achieved by varying the size of the voxel: the smaller the voxel, the more detail is achieved. The table being built at the museum will contain about 40,000 voxels. Although the robot's speed setting has been dialed down for the safety of the museum patrons, the table would usually take five days to finish.

Advances in digital fabrication have the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. With its computer brain, the robotic arm adds precision and stamina to the build process. In traditional manufacturing, changing from one design to the next requires an extensive retooling process, but with the Digital Matter system, it's as easy as pushing a button. The finished products are also environmentally-friendly since the adhesive that keeps the voxels in place can be dissolved, and the building materials can be reused in different structures. Not to mention this build-anywhere capability has the potential to transform shipping procedures.

Artists/designer Laarman shares the following comments on the museum's website:

“To me art, design, and science, although traditionally different, have many similar universal qualities. They express human curiosity and inventiveness in the most profound way. When scientists make use of the freedom and emotional creativity of artists, and artists make use of the skill and discipline of scientists, great things can happen.”

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