BLACKSBURG — The robot moved slowly, but the students watched in excitement.
The robot was several feet tall — painted in burnt orange — and at the end of its arm was stretched a hot piece of wire. The wire gradually cut with precision through an eight-foot tall column of Styrofoam.
The students then pulled the block apart into four pieces and reassembled them into an artistic design with waves and edges — resembling something you’d see in an art museum.
“This is all about evolving technologies,” said Robert Dunay, director for the Center for Design Research at Virginia Tech.
The students were mostly studying architecture, interior design and environmental design, and the robot was the last stage of an exercise learning about evolving technologies that are changing professions.
The students first began in a studio drawing a design by hand, and then they moved to digital software on a computer. Next, they cut small models in Styrofoam and wood, and the final part took place with the large robot cutting foam blocks according to the students’ designs.
“It was awesome to see this done after we’d been working on designs for the past few weeks,” said Miamar Burgos-Rosario, who is studying architecture.
Students gathered around in goggles and face masks and watched the robot cut the designs. Some students called in through a video chat on their peers’ phones to watch.
Robotics has become incorporated into many industries, including construction and architecture. For instance, companies are printing 3D houses, reducing the amount of time and cost it takes to build a house.
“It’s not as widely integrated into the construction industry,” said Gabriella Perry, a graduate assistant at the Center for Design Research.
Phillip Becher, who is studying architecture, said it’s likely that robotics in architecture and construction is probably farther out from being used on a large scale. He said it’s particularly useful in allowing for more inventiveness and creativity.
Dunay said that people don’t have to be in the field of robotics to work in architecture or interior design. But understanding the role of the evolving technology will allow the students to be on the cutting edge of what’s possible once they graduate in a few years.