Emerging Media Initiative @ Ball State University
Emerging Media Initiative @ Ball State University

Architecture student explores the use of humanoid robotics in construction

For many years, robotic technology has been an integral part of the industries of manufacturing, the military and space exploration to perform tasks that are laborious, dangerous, or even impossible for humans. Yet the potential for the use of robots in the practice of architecture, design and construction is a fairly new consideration, and students and faculty within Ball State’s Department of Architecture are positioning themselves as leaders in this area of research and development.

In April 2012, James DeChant, architecture graduate student, won second place in the suckerPUNCH international thesis competition for his exploration of the implementation of humanoid robots in architecture and construction. According to DeChant, combining computer methodologies with design and fabrication processes within robots can allow for precise construction, boundless mobility, unlimited memory/processing capabilities, and superior strength. In his masters project, called androidKRAFT, James conducted proof-of-concept experiments with robotic kits and collaborated with programmers, designers, construction workers, engineers, architects and other students.

“So many universities and firms within the design/making fields are doing a lot of work with fixed robotic arms and CNC machines. But humanoid robotic technology hasn’t been explored in architecture and construction,” said DeChant. “I’ve sought to understand the possibilities of humanoid robots in these different design/making fields and attempt to blur the boundaries between architecture and machine.”

Skylar Tibbits, architect, designer and computer scientist at MIT and a suckerPUNCH judge, remarked that the project is an “exciting conceptual proposal” that demonstrates that “distributed and intelligently-communicating agents offer a scale-able (not yet realizable) opportunity for architectural construction.”

DeChant’s advisors included Andrea Swartz and Michael Silver; Silver is a co-PI with Josh Vermillion of the Institute for Digital Fabrication on a 2012 Emerging Media Innovation Grant project continuing the exploration of humanoid robotics in construction.

Now a graduate of the architecture program, DeChant is pursuing employment opportunities this summer and will continue to maintain his website, studioPRODUKT.com with updates on androidKRAFT and other work.