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PhD Dissertation Defense (Gannon) - Studio for Creative Inquiry CFA 111

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TITLE: Human-Centered Interaction for Autonomous Fabrication Machines

BY: Madeline Gannon, PhD-CD Candidate

DATE: Thursday, 18 January 2018
TIME: 10:00am
LOCATION: Studio for Creative Inquiry, College of Fine Arts, Room 111


Dr. Ramesh Krishnamurti, Professor
School of Architecture
Carnegie Mellon University

Golan Levin, Associate Professor
Director, Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry
School of Art

Dr. Aisling Kelliher, Associate Professor
School of Computer Science
Virginia Tech

Dr. Tovi Grossman, Distinguished Research Scientist
Autodesk Research


Computer-controlled fabrication machines have been an essential part of industrial infrastructure since the early 1960s. The unique abilities of these machines — their speed, precision, strength, endurance, and programmability — have long provided a strategic advantage for factory automation. However, today we are witnessing the transition from automated to autonomous systems of production. Now, instead of being restricted to short, repetitive, pre-programmed tasks, fabrication machines are gaining the ability to dynamically see and respond to their changing environment. While this transition represents a significant advancement for manufacturing, it also presents a newfound opportunity to explore human-centered interaction design with these large, potentially dangerous, non-humanoid machines.

In this dissertation, I demonstrate the potential for rebalancing systems of automation to be more inclusive of people. My research examines how to combine intelligent sensing with well-designed interfaces, so that the underlying control framework of a fabrication machine can better understand a human-counterpart. I present three interactive systems that progressively embody a fabrication machine with this contextual information: with Reverb, I develop a framework for embedding machine knowledge into interactive, semi-autonomous geometry; in Tactum, I demonstrate how to adapt this intelligent, fabrication-aware geometry to dynamically changing physical environments; with ExoSkin, I examine the technical challenges of direct, close-quarter interaction with fabrication machines.

Finally, my work culminates with Mimus, a 1,200kg industrial robot that I transformed into a living, breathing mechanical creature. Mimus synthesizes innovations and techniques first developed in Reverb, Tactum, and ExoSkin to illustrate new interaction possibilities when coexisting with autonomous, attentive machines. It re-examines the unique affordances of an industrial robot, and illustrates how an existing tool of automation can be reconfigured to have more meaningful interactions with people. This body of work demonstrates the potential for human-centered interfaces to combine the unique abilities of people and machines in ways to transcend one another’s limitations. In doing so, my research aspires to show how our systems of automation can be reconfigured to enhance, augment, and expand human capabilities — not replace them.

A copy of the dissertation document can be found here.