Robot Nation


Recently I sent a couple of the YM team to check out this neat exhibition called “Robots + Fabrication”. They came back with great photos and stories of the KUKA Robotic Arm so I decided to investigate a little deeper to find out what is really going on behind the scenes at the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at Sydney Uni.

I squeezed an interview out of the uber busy Marjo Niemela, Manager of Architectural Technical Services Centre (ATSC), and discovered that the exhibition was a collaborative approach involving Marjo as curator and her staff team working on the lighting design and overall design. They’re amongst the first to have a Robotic Arm in an Architecture Faculty in Australia and very excited about the potential research the Robot arm will be integrated into.

Photo of the Kuka Robotic in action and drawing.

Kuka Robotic Arm drawing – photo by Stef

The opportunities are abundant; from tailoring digital fabrication and artisan approaches in architectural practices, Artificial Intelligence (Robot Learning), interaction design and all forms of computational creativity. The faculty is currently working on AI – Robot learning; where they leave the robot to try to figure out how to complete a task on it’s own using feedback from sensors. As you can see from the photo it’s artwork is amaze-balls. I wonder if robots will become artists biggest competition.

The very sexy Maker Bot

The very sexy Maker Bot – photo by Stef

Interestingly enough though, Marjo has a background in Fine Woodwork and furniture making. Despite her forays into future technologies she has the highest respect and appreciation of historic knowledge of artisan skills. So any concerns that she would “digitise” all areas of the labs were quickly swiped. In fact Marjo sees the analogue equipment as pivotal to this new type of learning and research environment.

“I believe digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC routing, water jet cutting and robotics can be complimentary to fine woodwork, stone masonry, and the fine arts.”

Encouraging students to get hands-on with their ideas and prototypes in a big way, Marjo admits that she is supportive of young people, particularly women working with fabrication and robotics. She believes that having access to such a fantastic resource of staff including many extremely gifted and competent women, normalises equality in an area that is generally male dominated.

“To be able to contribute, in a small way, to lessening the pre-conceived ideas that people hold of gender roles, I find incredibly rewarding.”

So what are Marjo’s dream innovations for the future at ATSC? Robots teaching themselves. But even closer to her heart is the combining of ancient knowledge, artisan skills and digital fabrication. We would call her a progressive purist and applaud Marjo and her dedicated staff for their contribution to the next generation of architects and designers in Sydney, regardless of gender.





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