A Designer Oriented Low-Cost Personal Robotic Fabrication Platform for Sketch Level Prototyping

Keywords: Robotic Fabrication; Design and Fabrication; Tool Development; Designer Oriented; Ubiquitous Manufacturing.



As digital design and fabrication are becoming increasingly prevalent, it is essential to consider how these technologies can be made more affordable and intuitively introduced to individual designers with limited computing skills. In this paper, we present an affordable personal robotic fabrication platform, PICA, consisting of a 3D printed robotic arm with a set of controller programs. The platform allows designers with limited computational design skills to assemble motors and 3D printed parts easily and to operate it in a code-free environment with direct manipulation through 3D modeling software. With the real-time communication between 3D modeling software and this robotic fabrication platform, PICA also allows designers to efficiently change the topological properties of geometry during the fabrication process. Based on a comparative observation of several application scenarios of using PICA among two groups of architecture students, the research can be summarized as follows: 1.) The project has proved to be an affordable approach to ease the materializing process when converting a designer’s initial intent from digital space to a physical prototype. 2.) Designers could be facilitated by utilizing this robotic fabrication platform, especially during the period of conceptual design.

In order to achieve the vision of designer-oriented fabrication platform, I have made three generations of the open-source robotic arm to polish the project so far. The first two generations of the robotic arm are driven by servos and a set of sensors. The establishment of these early prototypes offered me opportunities to gain advanced knowledge in Inverse kinematics. Both first two prototypes could be fully controlled per the designer’s gesture as well as a voice command. But the motion generated through servos is not accurate enough for the robot to perform fabrication tasks.

The third generation of open-source robotic arm that I developed is driven by a series of step motors and Arduino controller, associates directly with 3d modeling software Rhinoceros/Grasshopper. I also made a series of Grasshopper components to manipulate the robotic arm. A designer who demand rapid fabrication task during his/her design process, merely need to plug a USB cable, and directly manipulates the robot arm through the modeling software interface such as Rhinoceros without any robotic programming required.

The project has been published at The 2020 annual conference for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia.

Created by:

Teng Teng,

Jenny Sabin,

Research Paper:

Teng, Teng. and Sabin, Jenny. (2020), “PICA - A Designer Oriented Low-Cost Personal Robotic Fabrication Platform for Sketch Level Prototyping” in RE: Anthropocene, Design in the Age of Humans - Proceedings of the 25th CAADRIA Conference - Volume 2, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, 5-6 August 2020, pp. 473-483

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