MIT Medial Lab Director, Neri Oxman is a great proponent of 3D printing technology, and has been for many years in her fields of architecture and design. She is renowned for her work in incorporating nature’s own design principles into architecture and design processes. Her latest inspiration is based on human bones as construction material and the intricate structures produced by spiders.
Her current work explores biological systems that exist in nature and matching those processes with fabrication technology that exist today. For example, by utilising the numerical control of computers, namely 3D software, and 3D printing technology she is finding ways of mimicking these processes found in nature. “Look at spiders,” Oxman says. “They use about eight different properties of silk for different functions. The spider is like a multimaterial 3D printer.”
The spiders are also the name of the labs new project, called SpiderBot, which is designed to build large structures – in a similar fashion to spiders. The cable-suspended robotic system that consists of a deposition nozzle, a reservoir of material and winching electric motors, can easily move large quantities of material over a large scale platform to construct buildings and other similar structures.
Typically, structures such as buildings are built by using large cranes, which lift the elements into place for fastening to the groundwork. The SpiderBot project is aiming to replace this process by providing a more stable platform for 3D positioning of objects with improved range and lifting capacity. For example, if all winching motors are located in the device itself, it will also be capable of very fast deployment, in a matter of minutes, which may be crucial for other uses such as 3D printing structures for disaster relief and removing rubble.
Oxman is also looking into human bones as a construction material. The key assumption being that bones are a particularly strong and resilient part of our anatomy, able to withstand a substantial amount of weight. “We can’t print with calcium,” Neri Oxman says. “So the idea is to print with concrete but vary its density as a function of the load, much as bone does.” The robots will create an expanding foam that will form the mould for concrete walls as well as insulating the structure, leading to a process that could eventually include plumbing and wiring.
To learn more about her fascinating projects at MIT’s Mediated Matter, visit their website.