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Robots and worms join forces to spin silk pavilion

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June 4, 2013

MIT Media Lab's Silk Pavilion (Photo: Mediated Matter Group/Steven Keating)

MIT Media Lab's Silk Pavilion (Photo: Mediated Matter Group/Steven Keating)

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Silk Pavilion by MIT Media Lab poses some interesting questions about how what it calls "biological fabrication" might fit into the future of making things alongside 3D printing and similar computer-aided cleverness. To make the silk and metal dome, the work begun by robotic weavers was completed by silkworms – 6,500 of them.

The frame of the Silk Pavilion is made up of 26 metal hexagons. On each side of every hexagon are a series of metal teeth. A computer numerical control (CNC) machine threads silk about these teeth to create a silky lattice. By determining patterns for the machine to follow, "windows" in the lattice can be made, or, more accurately, left out. These were strategically placed to let direct light into the pavilion from the south and east windows of the surrounding room. An east-facing aperture doubles as a sun-clock oculus.

A computer numerical control (CNC) machine threads silk about these teeth to create a silk...

The next step was to add 6,500 "biological printers," or silkworms (Bombyx mori) to the lower edge of the pavilion. From there they were free to wander about the lattice and spin, which, evidently, they did, adding the byways to the CNC machine's highways. Gradually, the silkworms filled out the pavilion like a thickening cumulus cloud, though the team notes that the worms were particularly drawn to more shaded, denser areas of the surface, perhaps being the most preferable spots to spin their silk cocoons.

The team added 6,500 'biological printers,' or silkworms (Bombyx mori) to the lower edge o...

Finally, the MIT Media Lab team removed the silkworms after they'd become pupae, and before they become (rather beautiful) silkmoths. The team says that the resulting moths would produce enough silkworms to spin another 250 pavilions. Though no one's suggesting silkworms will become the builders of the future (not the most robust of building materials, silk), MIT's pavilion does prod at the definition of 3D printing, and asks if there's room for more than plastic fabrication machines.

A video of the making of the Silk Pavilion, carried out by MIT Media Lab's Mediated Matter Group (Bombyx mori notwithstanding), is below.

Source: MIT Media Lab via Dezeen

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
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2 Comments

You had me at "Robots and worms join forces"...

Its either the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or I'm heading for the hills in a desperate attempt to avoid the apocalypse of doom!

MzunguMkubwa
5th June, 2013 @ 05:28 am PDT

Hmm, the Spiders of Mars becomes the Silkworms of Mars (and Space) or maybe both... Program the little buggers like cellular automata and get them to pre fab our habitats and spaceships - carbon nano-silk inflatables for everyone.... Hmmm, they could even spin out gigantic solar sails that harvest vast amounts of energy (photoelectrics spun into the web AND use their webs to harvest solar wind, space dust, magnetic fields

skie's the limit really

I now know who is going to inherit the cosmos

all hail our silky overlords!

walkerjian
5th June, 2013 @ 01:53 pm PDT
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