KEY TERMS: Robotic Swarm Printing, Biological Swarm Manufacturing
Description of the inspiration from nature:
The silk pavilion constructed at MIT is truly an example of integrative, cutting edge architectural design that incorporates robotics, swarm behavior, materials processing and sustainability. The inspiration for the pavilion’s construction was derived from the silkworm’s cocoon construction. Specifically, the MIT team investigated the process of silk deposition by the silkworm species Bombyx mori. Silkworm behavior was used to model the construction of scaffolding produced by 3-D printers, that would create platforms condusive to building architectural forms composed of biological materials.
Below is a picture of the "cable-bot" used to perform 3-D printing manufacturing, using suspended cable technology:
Silkworms by nature are characterized as :
- "multi-nodal spinning organisms’, with relatively low levels of communication and interaction, silkworms are not bound by social hierarchical structures, but are extremely adaptable to spatial parameters and environmental factors in their immediate surroundings.” (Oxman, 2014)
The MIT team utilized the swarm behavior to create platforms separated at just the right distance with specific light conditions to create a structure composed completely of biological material. The team created scaffolds based on the spatial/nodal behavior of the silkworms. They used 3-D printing technology (The SpiderBot and CableBot), both developed by the Mediated Matter group at MIT, that are cable-suspended robotic 3D printing platforms. The idea is to combine robotic, additive manufacturing of some platform that will guide the production of a “tunable” biological material, like silk, to mimic the layering and density that the natural structure, such as a cocoon, possess.
Description of the bioinspired architectural structure or feature:
The structure of the silkworm pavilion is based on the swarm behavior of colonies of Bombyx mori. The size a shape of the 3-D scaffolds used to guide silk deposition took advantage of swarm behaviors of silkworms as well as their individual cocoon production.
The platforms shown above were fabricated using 3D printers that digitally fabricated a loose scaffold” that allowed to silkworms flexibility to respond to the environment. Spacing of the scaffolds and light was critical in guiding the deposition of silk in such a way as to create a unified, three dimensional dome. External factors such as light and temperature were In the case of the Silk Pavilion, however, this was accomplished by digitally generating only the overall scaffold strategy and leaving the local control and micro-structural fabrication to silkworms controlled through external factors such as changing space configuration, light and temperature. The following excerpt from the research team describes how each platform scaffold allowed the insect to respond to external environmental conditions, which provided “for dynamic control factors that can enable real-time feedback between existing and desired spinning patterns.” (Stot, 2013).
- "A season-specific sun-path diagram mapping solar trajectories in space dictated the location,size and density of apertures within the structure in order to lock in rays of natural light entering the pavilion from the south and east elevations, thereby guiding the movement of the silkworms across the structure’s surface area. (Oxman, 2013).
To make sense of this quote , the following diagram from the MIT blog site provides a good visual of how local temperature and lighting condition along the platform surface guided the silkworm deposition.
If you follow the diagram above from top left, counterclockwise to upper right and then lower right, you can see the scaffold, the heat intensive areas, and then finally the silk structure that was woven by the silkworms guided by the underlying scaffold.
Pictured below is the final product that is on display at MIT:
Is the new/future technology a societal win in your opinion?
This is definitely a societal win for two main reasons:
- First, by creating light weight, minimal scaffolds that will maximize the arrangement of soft-flexible bioloigcal material, one reduced the amount of waste and maximized the strength and integrity of the final product. The entire process models the arrangment of fibers in a natural setting.
- The use of biological materials to create a structure reduces the need for high pressure, high temperature, wasteful manufacturing; this is a closed loop manufacturing process since the main material used to create the structure is produced by a living organisms and is biodegradable.
I believe this an example of biomimiciry AND bioinspration. The silkworms are depositing their material in a scafflolding platform that mimics the spacing, temperature and lighting conditions that encourage the swarm-silk structure that would occur naturally. This is biomimcry. But normally the larvae spin individual cocoons that arent' necessarily connected by sheets. The encouragment of this sheet-like silk production as is seen the dome created at MIT is an example of bioinspired design as the animals were removed after the silk layer was complete.
Here is a excellent video Summing up the entire process from design, scaffolding, silk production and finished product.
MIT VIDEO OF ENTIRE CONSTRUCTION OF SILK PAVILLION. EXCELLENT VIEWING
Oxman, N., Duro-Royo, J., Keating, S., Peters, B. and Tsai, E. (2014), Towards Robotic Swarm Printing. Archit Design, 84: 108–115. doi: 10.1002/ad.1764
Oxman,N., Jared Laucks, Markus Kayser, Carlos David Gonzalez Uribe, Jorge
Duro-Royo. Biological Computation for Digital Design and Fabrication: A biologically-informed finite element approach to structural performance and material optimization of robotically deposited fibre structures. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Media Lab, Mediated Matter, USA. 2013 http://matter.media.mit.edu
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Stott, Rory. "Silk Pavilion / MIT Media Lab" 06 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=384271>
Tero, A., S. Takagi, et al. (2010). “Rules for biologically inspired adaptive network design.” Science Signaling 327(5964): 439.