Construction of a complex wood pavilion at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Mich., demonstrated how robotics can be used to build such low-carbon structures involving thousands of pieces. The University of Michigan research project used robotic arms to process and assemble various elements into modules that were then conveyed to the site for assembly by workers.



Robotics and automation are transforming the way we work, live and play. However, the construction industry is still dawdling at the back of the pack, according to numerous studies and reports.Arash Adel, an assistant professor of architecture at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, is doing his part to change that.

Adel, along with research assistants at his ADR Laboratory, and students in the masters program in digital and material technologies at Taubman College, built a novel wood pavilion at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor that showcases how robotics can be used to create complex structures.

The project was geared to promote sustainable low-carbon construction but also demonstrate how human-robot collaboration could work – and one day be extended to building new homes.The aptly named Robotic Fabricated Structure (RFS) featured a curved tunnel consisting of thousands of pieces of wood with bench seating on the exterior.

Industrial robotic arms were used to fabricate custom timber sub-assembles in the lab from off-the-shelf lumber.Adel is hoping the case study promotes conversations about appropriate uses of automation in construction and the architecture, engineering, and construction community’s shifting responsibility to find creative solutions to construction industry inefficiencies and the omnipresent threat of climate change.

“We are fully invested in advancing the larger questions of how and why we make, and in discovering and testing new ways of building the future,” Adel stated. “Completing RFS enabled research in robotic timber construction to be elevated to the scale and complexities of full and complete building systems beyond the laboratory.”