Meet the Australian robot creating unique pieces of public art

The robot at work. Image: QUT

A robot, designed to be the first of a new wave of manufacturing work horses in Australia, is creating bespoke public art pieces in Brisbane.

Until now, robots have largely been seen as inflexible machines pre-programmed to perform one task repeatedly in the assembly lines of factories.

Unlike its blind cousins, this robot is being trained at Brisbane’s UAP (Urban Art Projects) to create large-scale art pieces that until now were impossible to produce economically.

It’s the start of an $8 million design robotics research project to develop vision-enabled, agile and adaptable robots to make high-value products, rather than mass produced pieces.

QUT is leading the five-year design robotics project in partnership with UAP, the newly-established Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), RMIT and construction company Laing O’Rourke.

“We build big, one-off, high-quality art pieces for organisations around the world,” says UAP founder and managing director Matthew Tobin.

“We really love what we do but we are challenged by every project — each is very different from the last and each involves a lot of hand-crafting techniques to design the pieces, which we then have manufactured in China before we assemble and install them.

“While our team certainly has the skills to deliver these artworks, the cost of making these increasingly complex pieces is becoming prohibitive, particularly given the rising manufacturing costs in China.

“Having a robot on site with the intelligence to see what it’s working on and make adjustments on the fly will allow us to manufacture more of the pieces here in Brisbane, broaden the scope of designs we can achieve and employ more designers and technical staff.”

Design expert Dr Jared Donovan of QUT says robots can be extremely useful tools for businesses and creatives.

“But we need to approach them as more than just a high-tech wonder solution, we need to think carefully about where it makes real business sense for an SME (small to medium business) to use a robot effectively,” Dr Donovan said.

“SMEs can’t afford to employ a full-time engineer just to program a robot, that’s why we’re designing a system for UAP that is agile, adaptable and easy for technical staff to re-task day-to-day.”

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