| Miles Kemp is the president and founder of Variate Labs and Spatial Robots in Los Angeles

Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Images courtesy of Miles Kemp | Interactive Architecture, co-authored with Michael Fox, is out now | Image Permalink

Miniature Robots

It’s now possible to build the matter around us using systems of robots, with each module capable of independent locomotion. Miles Kemp’s project, Meta-morphic Architecture, offers a new type of interactive environment made from millions of these modules. These geometrically self-similar robots have the ability to roll around each other to create different spatial states in real time.

New Palette of Materials

By varying the size and materials of the different modules, it’s possible to create a system of modules that works together. Spaces and structures that adapt to the environment and human interaction require modules with three fundamental features: ones that sense external input (sensing components); ones that can process the input (computational components); and ones that can move or react based on the processed input (kinetic components).

Modular Geometries

Entirely new types of real-time states can be created within spatial environments consisting of multiple modules. By programming a set of rules, or logic, into the system, certain materials can cluster or form chains reminiscent of a string of proteins scaled up from molecular level.

Robotic Prototyping

Kemp’s team uses small-scale robotic prototypes to test the connections of these systems in the field. The components that make up these modules are becoming increasingly small, cheap, and abundant.

Lunar Fabrication and Assembly

Gregory Ladjimi and Brenda Hernandez, students at Cal Poly Pomona, are experimenting with designing new types of modular robotic systems for lunar colonization and space exploration. Modules can be created using smaller parts that can be fabricated and assembled on the lunar surface.

Environments With Less Gravity

These systems become increasingly plausible when they can be constructed in environments with different gravity than our own. Lunar gravity, for instance, would enable large robotic building systems to move using less energy.

Modular Systems Can Evolve

Similar to the groundbreaking evolutionary logic of the “starfish robot” developed by Hod Lipson at the Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory, these modular systems can literally adapt to changing environments in real time. Material in this wall, for instance, opens cells to become more transparent in reaction to reduced light in the environment.

Exploring Other Geometries

Scott Migliacci and Stephanie Wan from Cal Poly Pomona are exploring new ideas about locomotion in spherical geometries that will allow spaces and structures to move in new ways. By varying the center of mass within a ball, it can move while maintaining an unobstructed outer surface. Different types of spherical robots can form increasingly complex geometries.

Shape-Shifting Architecture

New biologically inspired materials and concepts about how materials can be organized have led to radical possibilities. John Amend, working at the Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory, is paving the way for real-time, reprogrammable matter. Using the “jamming phenomenon of granular materials,” which allows a material to be reorganized at a granular level without a change in temperature, Amend is changing the ways we think about kinetic locomotion and reconfigurable structure design. These projects represent the early precursors to living, thinking, reprogrammable architecture.

Show Captions

Our Adapting Future

By Miles Kemp / November 19, 2009

Watching “The Jetsons” as a kid, I thought that the idea of having helper robots around the house seemed plausible, but the specifics of how this would happen never seemed to make sense. Other than the way she talked, it was hard to see how Rosie the Robot was different from the other characters. But smart interactive robots do not need to look like our mechanical humanoid cousins. Interactive architecture—a burgeoning collaboration across diverse scientific and design communities—has ushered in advancements in manufacturing, behavioral logic, and biologically inspired materials and introduced new ways robotics can enhance our lives. Our spaces and environments—buildings themselves—are becoming the robots, Rosie is becoming the architecture around us, and unprecedented levels of responsiveness and environmental interactivity are becoming a reality.

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