digest | Robot Spider: weaves building materials of the future

series: Machines made better by nature.
May 10, 2019

— contents —

~ the story
~ about • the project
~ video
~ by definition
~ special section
~ by definition
~ learning
~ pages

— the story —

Inspired by nature, a remote-controlled robot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab is weaving a cocoon-like structure, with a software programming help from humans. Eventually it will be made autonomous. This spider-like robotic machine could one day weave a building. Researchers at the lab call this “spider silk inspired robotic fabrication.”


Spiders create sophisticated silk webs by changing composition, material make-up, and organization of their silk threads. The lab is exploring digital fabrication and bio-mimetic design. They’re creating fibers inspired by the silk created by spiders. The lab hopes to build woven architectural structures without seams — that are continuous in morphology and physical property through the implementation of a multi-axes tensile digital fabrication platform.

The researchers are using a robot arm to test weaving ability — with the goal to successfully develop a larger system. An engineer from the project explained:

“Usually with 3-D printing you see layered manufacturing: depositing one layer of material, followed by another layer on top. So in this project we’re using tensile elements instead. Think strings, ropes, and elastic bands. We’re exploring how you can have a manufacturing process that looks at your surroundings. It surveys the environment and says: we have branches here, some pegs over there, and those objects — that we can weave around. Sort of like a spider.

Elisabeth Tsai | research assistant • Media Lab at MIT

about | the project

The research prototype is called CN-SILK = computer numerically controlled silk cocoon construction. It was created by a specialty team at MIT’s famous Media Lab called the Mediated Matter Group. Their description is:

“Mediated Matter is how digital and fabrication technologies mediate between matter + environment to radically transform the design and construction of objects, buildings, and systems.”

watch | video
Researchers create a robot that can weave architectural structures.

by definition | morphology

(noun)  mor · phol · o · gy

The study of the forms of things.
A branch of biology that examines the form of living creatures.

— string shape architecture  —

String as a 3D architectural material creates a light-weight but supportive under-structure for building. Different geometrically balanced shapes — that can be programmed into a software system that’s attached to a robot dispensing + weaving arm — can create fundamental building blocks for making buildings or objects. Each shape has a variety of strengths or weaknesses.

Computer programmers and architects work together to discover the best load-bearing patterns that will incorporate modern living needs: windows, roof, floor, utilities — including portability, openness. The cities of the future will also rely on time efficiency + movability — how easy it is to quickly create a habit and re-locate it.

Spider’s silk is a type of string. Almost any substance can be spun into a yarn. So materials scientists study the wide range of benefits or difficulties inherent in each type of yarn they can create. A lot of labwork is needed to test the potentials of each kind of string.

images | below
Examples of string geometries.

photos: by Katie Michelle Spoelstra • Geo Mod Design

by definition | bio-mimetic design

The word bio-mimetic is a combination of 2 words:
BIO — meaning natural biology  +  MIMIC — meaning to imitate

A bio-mimetic design is a human-made creation that follows the look, feel, structure, morphology, composition, formation, and capabilities of biological materials + activities found in nature. It means to copy nature, or craft something inspired by nature. Researchers value the efficiency and complexity of nature’s substances and processes.

By watching nature’s intelligence in action, we can learn to:

  • craft complex machines
  • harness difficult materials
  • achieve robust movement physics
  • build better robots
  • examine sophisticated chemistry
  • design smarter cities

So bio-mimetic designers use nature’s toolkit. The best way to understand this technique is to see working examples. In the learning section below: you can explore a wide range of practical (and amazing) objects + machines — that were made with nature in mind.

Bio-mimetic design helps engineers, artists, physicians, biologists, architects, urban planners, machine + robotics experts, environmentalists: make things bigger, faster, stronger, and better.

on the web | learning

Bloomberg | Bio-Mimicry
deck: 14 smart inventions inspired by nature

Science Focus • by BBC  | Bio-Mimetic Design
deck: 10 examples of nature inspiring technology

Digital Trends
| the Best of Bio-Mimicry
deck: 7 brilliant examples of nature inspired design

on the web | learning

Architonic | The very fabric of architecture
deck: Textile use in construction

on the web | learning

BioMimicry Institute | home
BioMimicry Institute | examples • shaping sustainable design + innovation

Designing for, with, and by nature.

on the web | pages

Media Lab • at MIT | home
Media Lab • at MIT | mediated matter grp.

on the web | reading

PC World • by IDG  | Robotic Spider
deck: Weaves web at MIT Media lab

Media Lab • at MIT | research • Spider Silk: inspired robotic fabrication

— notes —

MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology
IDG = International Data grp.
BBC = British Broadcasting co.

PC = personal computer

[ story file ]

story title: digest | Robot Spider: weaves building materials of the future
deck: series: Machines made better by nature.
year: 2019
section: digest

[ end of file ]