Pradeep Devadass with Ben Spong, Martyn Carter, Viktoria Viktorija, Marielena Papandreou, Georgios Drakontaeidis, Vincent Huyghe.
How has the pandemic impacted the workshops & labs of the UCL’s architecture department? How has the B-made (Bartlett’s Manufacturing and Design Exchange) team addressed a complex subject like ‘robotics in architecture and construction’ in their teaching?
The presentation will introduce the newly developed ‘B-made Robots’ course which teaches applied robotics to students using blended and interactive teaching methods. The course provides comprehensive information, not only on how to program and operate robots but focusses also on how to develop architectural robotic processes. As the course utilizes online teaching methods, the course allows the students to learn at their own pace and independently explore robotic research with limited face to face interaction which is intended to support especially during the current pandemic circumstances. The presentation will also demonstrate how the course has impacted students and future possibilities.
In recent years, robotics in architecture and construction has been widely recognized as a stream of focussed study in higher education. We at the B-made (Bartlett Manufacturing and Design Exchange) consisting of a multi-disciplinary team, are responsible for providing a manufacturing-based education in a design fuelled context to the students of BSA (Bartlett School of Architecture). B-made have been hosting various robots of different specifications to address problems in architectural manufacturing and construction for almost a decade. To transfer this knowledge, B-made developed ‘Robots’ Course which teaches robotic manufacturing in context of architecture. The course discussed here is part of a larger curriculum that has developed across B-made which acts as a gateway to the B-made workshop. It covers a wide range of topics of how to use the tools (like a simple hammer, a complex multi-axis CNC, etc.), materials (such as timber, metal, clay, etc.) and develop processes (such as casting, wood carving, milling, etc.) to mention a few.
The challenge of learning robotics by an architect, construction engineer or anyone not from a realm of robotics demands a steep learning curve. Skills are taught by staff and developed by students typically through tactile, tacit and sensory means. The nature of this resists the inevitable abstraction of creating digital content. Even those tools that are known as ‘digital manufacturing’ tools, that have an intrinsic relationship to computing and therefore may more easily translate to digital forms of teaching have demonstrated some reluctance as they ultimately produce physical constructs. The major challenge at B-made is that the robot facility needs to cater to large number of students at different times of the year. This required considerable time for training which mainly consisted of basic repetitive information which resulted in minimum time for staff to engage in specific dialogue and discussion with students’ questions. To address these issues, an online robotics course in the context of architecture was developed by January 2020 using blended learning approach and interactive teaching methods. With the pandemic leading to a series of lockdowns and lack of face-to-face/ onsite teaching, the course resulted to be the only medium of transferring knowledge.
The blended learning pathway to robotic access is around 80% online learning and 20% in-person/physical activity. The physical activity is a type to test to validate that the student has understood the online content and is a safe and competent user of the equipment:
The B-made’s robots course consists of 3 main tutorials: basics, programming and operations. The basics tutorial introduces the fundamentals of robotics which explain the opportunities and constraints while designing and are broken down into subsections. Each tutorial consists of a video which is narrated, accompanied by open captions and transcripts which can be downloaded as a text for further language translation. This is added to support the large student international community at the school. To enable continuous engagement and recollection of the taught content, each video is followed by a short quiz. The programming tutorial provides how to develop and generate a simple program to be sent to the robot for production. Apart from providing step-by-step instruction on how to develop and generate a program, the programming part of the tutorial explains various optimization strategies based on the end-effector used (the tool that is attached to the robot to perform a task). While watching the video the student can simultaneously practice the software by repeating the small tasks which gets the student familiar with the different syntaxes of the programming software. As it is difficult to test a software skill on a blended learning platform, for programming tutorials a drag and drop interactive exercise is used. The operations tutorial is held on-site and is the first opportunity for the student to get hands-on experience with the robot. The tutorial uses interactive methods which enable the student to learn and practice independently at their own pace. The interactive tutorial provides step-by-step instruction and is created using H5P tool which includes videos, images and diagrams. Teaching or technical staff are always around to offer support when the student has questions. But due to the tutorial being interactive, only minimal support is required which in turn reduces face-to-face teaching. This method is seen as a preferred way of communication within the workshop environment due to the pandemic situation.
This online based interactive learning is first of its kind at the Bartlett school of architecture for robotics learning. Over 70 students have completed their online training from January 2020 to September 2020 and 30 students from October 2020 to March 2021. Positive feedback was received, and students noted that they can independently develop, program and operate the robot at their own pace for their individual or group projects with minimal support. To obtain detailed feedback Two student reviewers from other faculties with no prior experience or knowledge of architecture or robotics were invited. The reviewers found the course to be well produced, and well adapted for an online teaching format. They also found the self-paced learning to be suitable for students who have no previous knowledge allowing them more time for adapting to the unexplored domain. The suggestion for improvement was mainly dedicated to how to increase student engagement and how to compensate the lack of physical access to the facilities. A PGTA (Post-Graduate Teaching Assistant) who also is a current student enrolled in post-graduate programme at the architecture faculty was invited to review the course. The PGTA found the course to be a comprehensive introduction into the field of robotics for digital manufacturing stating also that using the interactive sections, accompanied with digital resources, as well as comprehensive guides, enriched the overall learning experience. In comparison to conventional classroom teaching, the course did not offer possibility of a dialogue when questions arise.
Following the review, a ‘remote robotics workshop’ was proposed and is currently being developed. To address the student engagement and tutor-student dialogue, an online-based workshop which focusses on robotic 3d printing process is proposed which explores hybrid learning-teaching methods. In this workshop the student learns the fundamentals, basics and operations through the online course created on Moodle with the motive of developing a design and production process for robotic 3d printing at the end of learning. Following successful completion of the course, the design developed by the students will be robotically produced in the workshop. The production process will be broadcasted in real-time over cloud-based video conferencing software. The students can remotely participate and understand the potentials, constraints and outcome of the process. The workshop is funded by the ChangeMakers Project fund which was secured in December 2020. and is intended to be conducted in Spring 2021.
B-made secured the Edify – Win a Lab competition as another initiative to address the issue of having lack of access to facilities. The opportunity is an ongoing research to enable immersive teaching/ learning experience using VR (Virtual Reality). This collaboration unlocked much of the thinking around teaching robotics. Prior to this, much of the thinking around teaching was pre-constructed by the tools that we had to teach with Moodle, H5P, videos, online tutorials, etc. In building a virtual reality environment in which robotics can be taught and robotic projects can be exercised we began to question not just what it is that we need or want to teach, but what are the types of spaces we need to teach in, and what can VR allow us to do that we may not have been able to do previously. Such thinking has had profound implications on how we now see our physical spaces and the limits on what we can teach. To take one point of our VR work to exemplify this point: We are exploring the potential of environment and scale changes in the VR environment. In an instant, students can switch from being ‘in’ the physical space of our robotics lab, to a building site in a remote location and scale their operations from one robot to ten. In tandem to extending the engagement of our blended learning training, the VR interface itself extends the capacity of our teaching and the projects students can undertake.
In some respects what started off as an endeavour to create a digital double of something we already had (existing tools/lessons/processes) has inverted so that our digital content (that we create to support our blended learning), now asks questions back of the physical. Physical here meaning not just our building and manufacturing facilities, but the practice of manufacturing more widely – opening up the potential of the work to contribute towards the future of teaching, manufacturing and in this particular case, robotics, all from your bedroom. From the feedback and the proposed initiatives, a hybrid teaching-learning model is the way forward. Consequently, our online content is now provoking our physical spaces, starting to ask questions back of our physical spaces.
B-made Robots Course created by
Robotics Team: Pradeep Devadass, Marielena Papandreou, Georgios Drakontaeidis, Vincent Huyghe
Connected Learning Team: Viktoria Viktorija, Ben Spong
PGTA: Peter Bus
Student Reviewers: Jackson Barr, Viktoria Makai
ChangeMakers Team: Ben Lee, Sienna Griffin-Shaw, Georgios Drakontaeidis, Pradeep Devadass
Edify – VR Team: David Shanks, Martyn Carter, Ben Spong, Pradeep Devadass
Managers: Niamh Grace, Martyn Carter
Director: Peter Scully