Over the years, architects’ toolsets have evolved—from paper, pens, and rulers to modeling clay, scanners, and hot-wire cutters. While many of the tools and processes have changed, one thing has remained the same: architects build a physical model of the design before creating the final product.
But what if you could feed your digital design to a small robotic arm equipped with all the tools necessary to bring your physical model to fruition? A researcher at Perkins and Will has created just that—the Mobile Robotic Assistant for Architectural Design (MRAAD, for short). Watch the video to learn more about this innovative robotic arm for architects.
Hakim Hasan, Architectural Roboticist, Perkins and Will: I’ve been able to do things that I am very passionate about, and doing these things, it’s making a positive impact in the world that we live in. I was never good in school, up until early high school, when I started doing technical drafting. I was super, super excited about this because it was a way for me to take the ideas that I had in my head and kind of realize them. I’m a researcher integrating robotics in the architectural practice. MRAAD stands for Mobile Robotic Assistant for Architectural Design. The tools that we chose to equip MRAAD with, they are twofold. One set of tools are typical tools that architects use that I see throughout our offices—so it’s like hot-wire cutters, laser cutters, and so forth. And then the second set of tools are tools that would help designers that would be easily translatable into robotic-construction processes.
Nick Cameron, Director of Digital Practice, Perkins and Will: I think at Perkins and Will, we are set up a little differently than most firms in that we want to invest in these technologies. I don’t really know—before we started this program—what we would do with robots until I met Hakim.
Hasan: MRAAD is aimed to be a tool to let architects understand how the robotic processes work, and how it can be integrated in the design process for construction.
Cameron: What we do as architects is very physical, and we always talk about moving from analog to digital. But really as architects, our output in the end is very analog. We build hospitals, we build schools, we build the places that people work, and those are really important places. Designers—for a few hundred years—have created instructions through drawings, and we hand it off to folks and they go build buildings. But we believe it will be done more with machines and robots, and we need to figure out how to instruct those machines so that they can carry on our design intent as pure as possible.
Hasan: You maintain a seamless digital thread where you’re going from the digital model, and that information goes straight to the robot arm, which understands that digital information and is able to interact with its physical environment. So there’s no loss of information in the translation. It’s beyond just making models faster; it’s a way to be able to prototype, to understand joints and the tectonics of how elements come together. Because you could design something in the computer, but when you try to put it together in the physical world, you’ll come into issues understanding the material behavior. Those are things you can’t necessarily understand in the digital world, so MRAAD seeks to bridge those two things together.
Rick Rundell, Senior Director, Autodesk Technology Centers: These are things that architects do every day, but now they’re learning how to do those things with the robot. Arguably this is more efficient—they can iterate more frequently on their designs. But at the same time, they’re also becoming familiar with how buildings will be made in the future. And as designers, understanding how a design is going to be affected or made real in the field changes how you think about that design.
I lead our technology centers, and these are areas where there are facilities where we explore the future of making—how digital information can be used to make physical things. For me, the big success is when somebody visits the technology center and walks out and turns to me and says, “I never imagined.”
Cameron: We were the first architectural design firm to do work at the Boston Technology Center. That’s culminated now into three years later, Hakim being in residence doing the robotics program.
Hasan: The tech center has been integral in both the physical and the digital aspects of MRAAD, where the entire physical platform, all the components were fabricated here in the tech center.
Rundell: What I’ve always hoped for from the technology center is that they keep our minds open to the possibilities that the future might hold. It keeps our imagination going, feeds into our planning for the future, and it helps the industry as a whole understand what the future will be like.
Cameron: It’s really cool to see something with our name on it being used to create architecture. Now it’s always about what’s next. How do we start to use what we’ve learned for our clients?
Hasan: The thing that drives me to get up out of bed every morning is just this constant curiosity to see what’s next in terms of technology, to actually reach this goal where robots are able to really rectify a lot of the issues that we’re having in the world and also help in designing a better future.