Pender and Cote co-chair Design Robotics Summit

Stefanie Pender (Critic, Foundation Studies/Glass) and Nick Cote (Graduate Student, Architecture) co-chaired the Design Robotics Summit hosted by Nathan King (Critic, Foundation Studies/Architecture) at the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies

The Center for Design Research(CDR), Design Robotics Summit(DRS) was the first of its kind event hosted at the newly developed Design Robotics Studio located at the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies Research and Demonstration Facility. The summit included over 60 students, faculty, and staff from a number of colleges, universities, and industry collaborators including: University of Tennessee, University of Virginia, Randolph-Macon College, Columbia College of Chicago, Rhode Island School of Design, AutodeskTM, and The Living.

Design Robotics has emerged in fields of Architecture, Art, and Design as a mode of inquiry focused on the investigation and understanding of emerging digital fabrication and robotic technologies in the context of direct engagement with materials and processes. The new Design Robotics Studio is focused on development and deployment of innovative processes, systems, and solutions, for both pedagogy and practice, while providing a platform for collaborative research, development, and exploration. In this vein the Design Robotics Summit provided a vehicle for engagement with academic and industry partners to foster a conversation surrounding design technologies from multiple perspectives.

First, from the student perspective, the summit offered the potential for a two-day immersion into digital design-to-robotic fabrication resulting in numerous physical prototypes. This immersion provided the technical skills needed to begin to engage emerging Design Robotics initiatives at all the participating universities. In addition, students from the Virginia Tech student group, Digital Mentorship Collaborative (DMCO) along with those from current CDR Design Robotics courses participated as Student Instructors who offered supplemental instruction in computational design workflows. The DRS also provided a platform for institutional capacity building by enabling digital fabrication coordinators from UVA, UT, and VT an opportunity to work together on the development of workflows related to student access to robotic fabrication equipment. In addition to the three robots offered in the CDR-Design Robotics Studio, including the large format machine shown, the Universities of Virginia and Tennessee brought their own machine—a convening of equipment that enabled the pollination of knowledge that will enable the rapid adoption of the technologies at each respective school.

Beyond academic participation, a connection to design practice was established though Industry engagement with Autodesk. During the summit a team of Autodesk developers worked side-by-side with workshop co-chairs and students to develop an innovative design-to-robotic fabrication workflow using Autodesk’s Dynamo, an open source graphical programming interface that soon will interact with a number of Autodesk software platforms. This development resulted in the first physical artifact created from a direct Dynamo-to-robot workflow and will provide opportunities for the engagement of design robotics to a wide range of potential users.

The CDR-DRS consisted of a series of tutorials, lectures, and hands-on creation of physical artifacts using the industrial robotic technology. Each of the 60+ participants created something using the robot on the first day of the workshop- thus enabling an iterative prototyping process that allowed student groups to refine selected designs used in the production of large scale sculptural elements during the second day. The results of the workshop will be presented at the upcoming International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City through an exhibition by the Center for Design Research entitled Material Transformations.