The goal of the PLOTBOT/CRAWLER research project is to develop a web-based, sensor-guided automaton – a mobile robot that can be used to functionalize building surfaces via the application of complex layer systems. Its thorough integration of tool and software logic allows it to be guided over the surfaces of structural elements in real time, regardless of geometry, or directed to follow a preprogrammed pattern. The development of Plotbot/Crawler encompasses four interdependent modules: an “all in one” mechanical component including effectors, sensors, and mobile base unit; structured yet flexible control software; a hardware-software interface; and a web interface for technical support and enhanced user communications. The project also has a specific use case to address: the task of applying and maintaining the DysCrete layering system. DysCrete is a type of dye-sensitized electricity-generating concrete whose electrochemical coating must be reapplied at regular intervals corresponding to typical maintenance schedules for surface finishes on building facades.
Through the development of Plotbot/Crawler, the research team is also answering questions in physical computing – that is, in the construction of interactive physical systems that act on the real world and explore the relationship of humans to the digital world. The combination of Plotbot/Crawler, database, and building facade is a perfect example of such a system, linking IT/software-based components with physical/mechanical and electronic parts that communicate via a data infrastructure such as the internet. Through processes of self-optimization, self-configuration, self-diagnosis, and cognition, such systems can make essential automation technologies more intelligent and better able to support humans in increasingly complex life and work situations. While the development of these systems has been slow in the construction field, it is an area of great interest: in response to the challenge posed by the sustainable and economical conversion of the world’s building stock (green construction), for example, it offers a conceptual yet hands-on approach to tapping the potential that technology-oriented, flexible production holds for this sector.
Modifications to Plotbot/Crawler allow users to integrate a variety of specific functional systems into built structures via printing processes. Examples of such functional systems might include printed sensor systems, physical-computing facades, pearlescent pigment layers, photographic-concrete facades, multicolored architectural graphics, wayfinding systems, reflective or luminescent surfaces, decorative layers, and sealants. Plotbot/Crawler can also be modified to function as an on-site 3-D printer. This is an ideal modification for restoring geometrically complex structures of historical buildings (printed brick or sandstone). The aim is to find solutions that exploit this potential while also accommodating the particular demands of the construction industry. In this respect, the approach taken by the Plotbot/Crawler project is distinctive yet typical. Both the additive layering and the clear interface definition provided by this combination of high tech (Plotbot/Crawler) and low tech (facade element) offer novel benefits.
research & project funding
- Research Initiative Future Building
- Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development
- Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)