Collaborative Robotics for Construction Research

Stefana Parascho has been an assistant professor at EPFL since March 2022, and is responsible for the Lab for Creative Computation (CRCL). "Right now I'm busy developing the lab and continuing to build my team," she says. She currently has five researchers and technicians installing hardware and initialising software workflows for the lab, and beginning to implement new robotic processes. Stefana's research focuses on the relationship between humans and machines: "We mainly research how to make robotic construction processes more adaptive.” In doing so, she appeals to rethink classical automation.

Working WITH the machine

"In classical industrialisation, most robotic processes run in isolation from the workers” she says. However, if a process is fully automated, then any interplay between humans and machines is lost and workers may be inclined to feel marginalised, thereby decreasing the likelihood of the labour team accepting novel technologies at work. "Processes that are more accessible and interactive engage the workers, while also enabling the required versatility needed for construction." Moreover, Stefana is convinced that interactive processes are less problematic to integrate into practice. "It's easier to convince a human to work with a machine than asking the human to follow a rigid pre-programmed robotic process."

New ways of working

Prof. Parascho beleives that the same concerns apply equally to academics as in industry. For architecture students Stefana has said. "Our lab is about teaching what possibilities exist, and how the field of digital design and construction can develop." Stefana appeals to the students' interests by promoting collaboration and exchange and above all telling her students that it is up to them to engage. "With knowledge our students can ultimately use these technologies for their own projects and goals. In the current context it is not OK to just wait until you are given a task to implement them. In a rapidly evolving field like technology it is not effective to learn skills in such a top-down manner." Stefana's goal is that her students should be comfortable with new and evolving technologies and know how to use and adapt them for their own purposes.

CRCL Researchers and students of the course Digital Design and Making22 at EPFL

CRCL researchers and students of the course “Digital Design and Making" at EPFL which Stefana Parascho teaches.

The duality with technology

Stefana observes a duality when it comes to technology. "Often, a person is either pro or against technology”. Students are not immune from this duality. Some are very enthusiastic, while others are critical of the use of technology in architecture. "I understand this criticism, and I actually support it as it helps students reflect on the impacts of technology, and for us to develop a dialogue," says Stefana, "however the one thing I do require is that my students should be able to substantiate any critique through experience." They should experiment with new tools and processes and let their experience ultimately guide them to address the shortcomings or opportunities of any technology.

Human-machine relationships in the future

"The relationship between humans and machines holds potential advantages that may not be visible thus far, as new and emerging technologies and processes continue to be implemented," says Stefana. Currently, most industrial actions needs to be pre-defined very precisely when working with robots. Stefana believes that in the future it will be common for an average user to engage with a robot. "If a human wants to operate a robot, they will not need the extensive skills, expensive tools, and complex interfaces that we see today." Stefana elaborates. It should be possible for humans and machines to develop construction processes together through real-time collaboration and communication. To ensure that this may one day be possible, Stefana and her team aim to bring robotic knowledge closer to architecture students and continue research into collaborative robotic fabrication.