Swarmscapers is a 2 month long research project conducted in the Creative Architecture Machines studio, taught by Jason Kelly Johnson and Michael Shiloh at California College of the Arts in the Digital Craft Lab. It is a collaboration between Clayton Muhleman, Alan Cation, and Adithi Satish. A huge impetus behind the CAM studio as a whole is questioning what happens when architects become innovators of their own technological tools rather than mere users of prepackaged CAD suites and fabrication machines designed by engineers. No one on our team has a background in engineering or electronics, and this is not about architects trying to become engineers and optimize existing technologies. Rather, the studio questions what kind of creative potential architectural designers inventing their own machines can unlock, and speculates what broader socio-cultural ideas arise from architecture that is fabricated by these machines.

Swarmscapers explores the potential of an autonomous swarm of robots capable of operating independently in hostile environments. Utilizing on-site materials to create inhabitable structures, the robotic swarm's behavior materializes through a slow and constant process of layered 3d-printing. This projects the architectural potential of emerging robotic and fabrication technologies through a bottom-up rule-based system. Each unit within the robotic swarm acts as an individual agent embedded with a specific rule-set that drives its behavior and allows it to coordinate with other agents in the system. These agents 3d print large, architectural structures that calcify and emerge from the landscape where the impetus for structure is to develop future encampments in extreme environments, places where humans could not otherwise build. Extreme heat and the abundance of raw materials in the desert make it an ideal testing bed for the robotic swarm to operate, creating emergent seed buildings for future habitations that are ready for human occupancy over the course of multiple decades.

In order to test this wider vision, we established a laboratory-like setting focused on using at least one mobile robot to 3d print scaled objects within a 48" x 48" x 20" build volume. There were 2 major constants within our larger concept that allowed us to focus our research and achieve our goal in a 2 month time frame, which were to create a gantry-less mobile powder bed and inkjet head 3d printer (the specific technology of a Z Corp 3d printer), and to utilize on-site granular materials as building materials. It was important for our machine to remain gantry-less and mobile because it implies that multiple machines will one day be able to autonomously 3d print entire buildings, and it implies that these printers are relatively small compared to the buildings they are 3d printing. The advantages to using powder bed and inkjet head 3d printing as a technology, is that it allows us to print without scaffolding and create highly intricate shapes, and it allows us to reuse the leftover materials so that there is a minimal amount of waste during construction. In addition, our method can work with almost any granular material including sand, rice, semolina, salt, and sawdust. Since it is important to use materials found on site, we conducted our larger 3d prints in sawdust because CCA generates 6 dumpsters full of sawdust per week. Sawdust is abundant and it is extremely lightweight, making it an ideal material for us to test. The robot works by driving on top of the sawdust based on a tool-path defined in the computer, and dropping a binding agent on the material, hardening it in place. It does this repeatedly, layer by layer until the object is complete.

Step 1: Outline of Subsequent Steps

It can seem like a complex process in order to start 3d printing with a Swarmscaper, so we are breaking this down into primary steps with sub-steps in between:

1) ROBOT HARDWARE - all of the pieces needed to assemble and wire your Swarmscaper

1.1) Necessary Supplies, Materials and Related Files (Step 2)

1.2) Robot Assembly (Step 3)

1.3) Wiring the Robot (Step 4)

2) ROBOT SOFTWARE - all of the necessary software and programming for the Swarmscaper

2.1) Necessary Software and Related Files (Step 5)

2.2) Making the Programming work (Step 6)

2.3) Making XBEE Work and Other Software Nuances (Step 7)

3) PRINT-BED - all of the pieces needed to assemble the print-bed for the robot to operate within

3.1) Necessary Supplies, Materials, and Related Files (Step 8)

3.2) Construction of the Print-bed (Step 9)

3.3) Material Studies for Possible Construction Materials (Step 10)



The way we are organizing these steps, it is important to look through all of the steps before gathering the supplies to get started. Because there are a lot of supplies, software, and files associated with making this project work, we separated this longer list into multiple steps. For convenience, Look at STEP 2, STEP 5, and STEP 8 for all necessary supplies, software, and files needed to build your own Swarmscaper.

It is also important to note that this project was completed with access to a 3d printer, a laser cutter, and standard wood-shop tools (drills, saws, etc). We used a Flashforge Creator and an Ultimaker 2 for 3d printers, and a Lasercam laser cutter with a 2' x 4' bed size. It is possible to not need to use the laser cutter, however the 3d printers and shop tools are absolutely necessary.


<p>pretty good!</p>
<p>Love this! We are hoping to work with our local &quot;maker space&quot; and an area robotics company to have a cohort of high school students work through this project during a summer academic program.</p>
<p>Awesome! Shoot us a message if you have any questions while you're working on it!</p>
<p>try diluting the glue, a 50/50 solution would apply easier and would go a lot further, another benefit would be with the longer curing duration the layers below will be further compressed by the layers on top making for a stronger structure.</p>
<p>Love this idea. I need a dozen solar powered in the garden pulling weeds, making rows, planting, squishing or lasering bugs, and keeping the birds out of my berries. </p>
<p>and mowing the yard, one section at a time every day so the yard is always mowed, the garden is always weeded, the edges are always trimmed... using small bots that don't cost thousands. I want these to print my 'cabin' up north using sawdust and glue - make me a series of spheres with 4 inch thick sawdust composite walls, use a chainsaw to cut out round windows and door holes, use sprayfoam to insulate and waterproof inside and out - maybe these guys could do that job too, the foam not the cut outs, or have them print around the holes leaving spaces inbetween...maybe use quadcopter technology to bridge the gaps where the crawlerbots can't go, or to lift them up. I am very interested in this project.</p>
<p>Have you guys published this work academically? I'd like to cite it in a paper I'm preparing.</p>
<p>Hey Adlab. We're currently consolidating our work for publication. Once we get things all wrapped up, I'll be sure to post some links back on this instructable in order to keep you guys up to date. Thanks for your interest!</p>
I get stuck on the step where it says &quot;get 3D printer and lasee cutter&quot;
<p>Actually, you can remove the laser cutter from the requirements! We purposefully designed the robot so that the only digital fabrication tool required is a fused filament 3D printer. Still, not totally accessible for everyone, but much more manageable than access to a laser cutter! </p><p>If that's still a problem, you can basically use any tread based robotics platform as a vehicle to hold the electronics and the glue reservoir. I bet you could repurpose an RC tank pretty easliy!</p>
<p>Any chance of a video showing the swarm making something ? - the video on the first page just seems to show the members of the team hoovering stuff out of the &quot;workspace&quot;</p>
<p>Hey phoe. Yeah, I'm busy uploading some more video to another site as part of the process of getting this work published. Stay tuned!</p>
<p>For a good watch of your idea in motion Get Stephen Spielberg's VHS &quot;Batteries not Included&quot;!- Movie. Your Idea-Great Potential - Awesome Future. </p>
<p>It would be really interesting to see these devices let loose on say a beach as an entrant in a sand castle/sculpture competition. THAT would make a really cool time lapse video and probably gain international media attention. Exciting project guys.</p>
<p>Ah yes, speaking of NASA and terraforming, have you not read the many science fiction novels where this all goes awry? Or the few where it gets weird and interesting (eg. Vortex). </p><p>;) Just kidding. </p><p>This is a lovely and thought-provoking project. You might want to check out some of the work done on the effects of swales in the desert and other things fitting loosely under the rubric of Permaculture (e.g. Geoff Lawton's &quot;Greening the Desert&quot;, etc). That could be a very simple and high-impact application of your work. </p>
<p>Wow! Awesome project dude! =D Congratulations!!!</p>
wow! like other comments, I can really see this being like at by NASA and similar organisations. if these structures can be made without having to cover the entire area and compress it, I believe it would become that much more practical on large scale real world scenarios. even so, amazing work, well done and keep up the good work!!
<p>Looks like something NASA or Space X would like to send to Mars or the Moon to build structures for people that will be sent afterwards. Lots of sand like material in both sites.</p>
I see, you're beginning to make termites. Interesting first step in a long process.
<p>Robotic termites! Actually, showing a good example of AI to make things. I see A future in forming shelters on distant planets using this idea, but using swomehting a lot more stronger than wood, Very Nice!!!!!</p>
<p>well done! wow, this was a two month project? seems like you accomplished quite a lot! great work! </p>

About This Instructable




Bio: Artist and Residence at Autodesk Pier 9
More by AlanCation:Swarmscapers: Autonomous Mobile 3D Printing Robots Dragon Shell Pavilion Prototype 
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