Robotic arm advances architecture students’ designs


Hannah Auten

Kevin Erickson, architecture professor at the University, uses the robotic arm. The arm, purchased in 2015, helps students improve their design skills.

By Kevin Delgado, Staff Writer

The College of Architecture is training students to use a new fabrication tool that will help bring their designs to life.

The college purchased the robotic arm in 2015 through funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the College of Fine and Applied Arts, but students have only recently begun the fabrication tool training.

The robotic arm was produced by FANUC America, a company that specializes in robotic manufacturing, and customized especially for the University by RobotWorx, a company focused on robotic technology.

The arm is located in the Fabrication Lab, which is in the Architecture Annex Building.

The arm is composed of six axes and rotates 360 degrees, allowing students to cut certain angles and shapes that cannot be cut with other fabrication tools. The machine also is capable of shaping foam and 3-D printing.

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    A previous lack of funding and staff meant students could not receive training. The College of Architecture’s Development Office, however, arranged for a donor to contribute an estimated $20,000 to cover the cost of the training

    Similarly, Kevin Erickson, an architecture professor and the program chair of the Detail and Fabrication Program, took over and began teaching a course on robotics and architecture this spring.

    “We are a research university, and we have to think about the application and the use of this equipment to further the discourse of our profession,” Erickson said. “The idea is to keep a balance of basic knowledge needed to operate while keeping in mind the ideas, theories and applications in which you might apply this tool.”

    One example of a project that Erickson assigned his students involves transforming a tree trunk into a canoe using the robotic arm. The project will teach students the speed and technique that should be used to cut the inside and outside of different objects, Erickson said.

    Myah Price, senior in FAA and a student in Erickson’s robotics and architecture course, said that learning the new applications has changed the way she designs her projects.

    “We are learning to use new softwares and build things in a mass production and manufacturing way,” Price said. “Technology has really influenced the way I have designed specifically within the projects. I really like seeing how it (the robotic arm) affects the style of my design,” she said.

    Erickson hopes to co-teach a course with faculty members involved with the College of Art and Design next year.

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