Sure, there have already been 3-D printed houses. And you can pick up a Nest Thermostat with artificial intelligence at your local hardware store. But a new book co-written and co-edited by Mahesh Daas, dean of the University of Kansas School of Architecture & Design, argues that robotics can and soon will be even further integrated into the design processes at the heart of architecture.
Daas and his collaborator on "Towards a Robotic Architecture" (2018, Applied Research & Design Publishing), Temple University Assistant Professor of Architecture Andrew John Wit, brought together a variety of notable authors to survey the latest developments in the field.
Daas said that, after an introductory framing of the question, the book explores such endeavors as robotic construction methods, robotics used for building operation, and maintenance and the use of robotics in design itself. Finally, it looks to the future, including a chapter on how robotic construction could make life on Mars possible.
As for the cultural effect of robots, Daas said that, too, is already happening.
"With the invention of the clock, we framed the world, the universe, as a clock—a mechanism that keeps ticking," Daas said. "Then when we began to use computers, we began to see the world as informational systems, including ourselves. So first we were machines, and then we were computers, and now we are robots. So in that sense it is a cultural phenomenon. We think the robot is the other, but little do we realize it is more about ourselves. Technically, as well as conceptually and experientially, the distinction between robots and humans is fuzzier than ever."
OK, so we're already building and maintaining things robotically, but what about designing them? Isn't that the heart of architecture: something irreplaceably human?
"We talk about robots and artificial intelligence for design," Daas said. "How we use robots in the design process, moving from the design process to prototype things. In that sense, robots become partners in exploring and designing. So it's not that robots are going to take over, but the distinction between robots and us begins to get blurred. One becomes the extension of the other."
Daas believes that robots won't obviate humans in his field but will instead enhance human life.
"We are only afraid of what we don't understand," he said. "You have to demystify new technology. If you don't, we're driven by fear and baffled by that experience. It is a brave new world."