The Centaur Pod will morph and change shape

A robotic room that morphs and shifts to accommodate more people and changes in temperature is being designed by the University of New South Wales students and Arup.  

The origami-like structure, which will learn from data without human intervention, will also likely be capable of expanding and contracting to let in the optimal amount of natural light, according to the manager of Arup’s core research program, Bree Trevena.

The “Centaur Pod” prototype will be built next year by Bachelor of Computational Design students at UNSW Built Environment and Arup in the engineering services firm’s Sydney offices.

Ms Trevena told The Fifth Estate that there are numerous potential real-world applications for this type of soft robotic technology that is capable of interacting with people.

For example, this more flexible robotic technology could lead to increased adaptability in buildings. This is because these modular rooms could be easily adapted for a variety of uses rather than creating multiple different spaces for different needs.  

According to UNSW’s discipline director of computational design, Associate Professor Hank Haeusler, the project is a unique combination of machine learning and kinetic architecture.

“At the moment, a human can be in the same space as a robot and can interact in the space with the robot, but what we want to do is make space itself become the robot,” the Associate Professor said.

“Thus when a person in a building moves, behaves or operates in any way, the ‘robot’ will sense this behaviour and starts learning from this behaviour and other people’s behaviour and will create knowledge from the behaviour and the knowledge will translate into the space to change.” 

Centaur Pod draws inspiration from an ocean creature

Arup’s Bree Trevena said the project was inspired by the way an octopus flexibly expands and contracts. 

She said these sorts of explorations in biomimicry and technology represent next-generation thinking in building and construction and will help inform the industry’s trajectory over the next 20 years. 

“The Centaur Pod is one of 70 projects [in Arup’s research program] that are exploring the intersection between space, humans and the built environment,” she said. 

“We are getting to the point where buildings are not placed over nature but working with it.”

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