Robo: IoT + Kinetic Architecture

A lizard lifting its feet off the hot sand to cool off; Could our habitat automatically move its components to adjust to the environment?


Robo is an interdisciplinary concept that lives at the intersection of kinetic architecture and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. In my last story, I have explained how I came across this concept given my multifaceted back ground.

Big Picture

IoT and kinetic architecture are both more than 50 years old. However, could they fully integrate together and become something novel? Kinetic architecture is future of IoT. By thinking in the context of kinetic architecture, the building components like platforms, walls, and roofs could move in an intelligent way. Here, intelligence means that the components can reposition, rotate, shrink, slide or generally animate automatically as a response to an environmental change to satisfy the needs of inhabitants without their direct supervision. The decisions regarding what, when and how to move can be made by a central processor that gathers sensor data from a variety of locations around the building.

Programming a microprocessor is like having access to the brain neural network and be in control of actions.

Introducing Robo

Inspired by herringbone tessellation origami, Robo expands and contracts to cover or expose the outdoor space. In particular, Robo changes shape when sensing precipitations or detecting variations in natural light.

Robo expands and contracts like an origami
Robo: IoT meets Kinetic Architecture

These adjustments will not only improve the use of outdoor space but also optimizes the functionality of the adjacent interiors. Imagine a cold but sunny day in the winter where you could have a warmer room if only your balcony roof was not blocking the sunlight from reaching through. Now imagine if the balcony roof could automatically move out of the way. Even if you were not home to appreciate the warmth on a cold day, your plants could. Robo aims at becoming that intelligent outdoor canopy.

Automatic roof unblocking the sunlight to reach through the building in a cold and sunny winter day
Robo at different stages: open versus closed

How Robo Operates

The step-by-step details on how to make a DIY 1/50 scale prototype of Robo using a Raspberry Pi and some Python programming can be found in this post. Here, I will go over some high level concepts.

Robo has two modes of operation: automatic, and manual. When in manual mode, it follows the user’s commands by pushing either the open button or the close button. However, when in automatic mode, it moves in three different scenarios depending on the input from light and rain sensors.

  • At sunrise, it closes the canopy to let the sunlight reach the interior space.
  • At sunset, it opens the canopy and turns on the balcony lights to create a cozy setting for an enjoyable evening hangout.
  • When it is rainy (or snowy), it opens the canopy

Behind the Scene

At the heart of Robo is a Microprocessor (e.g., Raspberry Pi) that gains intelligence through light and rain sensors and triggers the actuators to open or close the canopy. The sensors detect a change in environment in real time, and communicate it to the RPi. The Python code that is running on the RPi will make the decision on what the actuators need to do under each scenario. The system diagram below presents the relationship between these components.

System Diagram for Robo

The DC motor moves the canopy back and forth using a rack and pinion system. The canopy is made out of a single sheet of thin paper and has a specific pleating pattern that allows the form to expand and contract easily.

To get the full details on what happens behind the scene, please check out this post where I present the steps to build a 1/50 scale prototype of Robo empowered by a Raspberry Pi 4. I will explain about the required hardware components, circuit assembly, and Python programming.

Closing Remarks

Robo is a design solution that takes a fresh look at IoT applications in Kinetic Architecture. It explores how the inhabitants’ living experience could be enhanced around the year. I would like to take this idea further and look into other building components and the relationship between moving and static spaces. Flying rooms, moving walls, sliding platforms or any other moving organ of the building body that could potentially transform our living experience.

Finally, I would like to further study applications of artificial intelligence and how it can be integrated with Robo. Areas such as reinforcement learning has the potential to enable Robo to learn from people’s preferences and lifestyle. The way people use the space and their direct feedback could enhance the level of Robo’s intelligence by personalization. Building a full-size prototype of Robo for my balcony and test further ideas will be my next step.

I hope this article is helpful for whoever is interested in exploring the interface of disciplines.

“Take your skills and apply them to a new problem or take your problem and try completely new skills.”, Range. — David Epstein

. . . . .




Tech and Design — studio SIMA

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Sima Shahverdi

Sima Shahverdi

Tech and Design — studio SIMA

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