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Public canopy system can be reconfigured by drones on the fly

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Public canopy system can be reconfigured by drones on the fly

The installation combines cyber-physical building materials constructed from lightweight carbon fiber filament with a collection of autonomous drones.

By David Malone, Associate Editor | November 8, 2018
Aerial view of reconfigurable canopy

The prototype, developed by researchers at the University of Stuttgart, employs autonomous aerial vehicles to constantly reconfigure canopy systems for use in public spaces. All photos courtesy University of Stuttgart.

Architecture is always evolving. Be it the way buildings are designed, the processes by which they are built, or the materials used. But a new prototype from the University of Stuttgart takes this continuous evolution to a new level, with a reconfigurable canopy system for public spaces that is in a state of perpetual construction.

The Cyber Physical Macro Material as a UAV [re]Configurable Architectural System (hopefully the name will continue to evolve as well) combines cyber-physical building material constructed from lightweight carbon fiber filament with integrated electronics for communication and sensing, with a collection of autonomous aerial vehicles, dubbed builders.


Reconfigurable canopy panels


The canopy is composed of individual pieces that measure 40 cm wide, 64 cm long, and 25 cm tall. Each piece is composed of a roof plate that acts as the shading element, an attachment bar for UAV transport, ABS attachment plates with embedded magnets, an electronic board with a microchip, a sensor for external data input, and elements that allow each unit to communicate with every other unit.


See Also: When pigs fly? How about when cows float?


These units communicate with the UAV builders to facilitate the canopy’s movement. Separate vertical zones allow for simultaneous construction and use. This means the builders will be busy overhead changing the structure while users can still enjoy the space beneath. When the builders are not in use, they retreat to a nearby building rooftop.


Drone reconfiguring the canopy system


This combination of distributed robotic construction and programmable matter allows for the canopy system to constantly evolve based on its surroundings. The system can be programmed with responsive behaviors, such as following the sun’s orientation to maintain a constant shadow area, or with interactive behavior, which means the user can place columns as an interface to inform the structure where to grow.

The system can also be set to probe the environment for data to develop and learn new behaviors; after time, the system will be able to predict user behavior and change to a relevant configuration in advance.

It remains to be seen if having a hive of drones buzzing overhead will spoil the experience for some users, or if the builders will be able to reconfigure the canopy quickly enough to keep up with how people would use a given green space. At the very least, the prototype is meant to challenge “preconceived ideas of robotic digital fabrication and sophisticated prefabrication for architecture.” Miguel Aflalo, Jingcheng Chen, and Behrooz Tahanzadeh created the prototype.


Canopy system providing shade to people underneath


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