‘We’re inspired by their original ideas and enthusiasm’

Makeathon in Robot Lab: students build circular wooden street furniture for Stadhouderskade

21 Dec 2022 10:46 | Centre for Applied Research Technology

One glance out of the window and they can immediately see what they’re doing it for: from the Robot lab, students at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) look directly out onto Stadhouderskade. In the coming years, this busy, polluting street will be transformed into The Green Mile: a green oasis with space for nature and sustainable initiatives. Students and researchers at the Robot Lab are playing an important role in this transformation. For example, students from the Robotic Production & Circular Materials minor recently took part in a Makeathon. The challenge: design and build a piece of circular wooden street furniture for The Green Mile in two weeks. We watched over their shoulders as they did so.

Monday, 31 October: kick-off

On Monday morning, around 25 students from the Robotic Production & Circular Materials minor gathered at the Robot Lab. Here, students learn how to use robots and digital production to reuse discarded materials and contribute to the circular transition in Amsterdam. The Robot Lab is the ideal location for this, as the glass façade on their right gives the students a first-class view of the city.

As soon as everyone was sitting down, researcher Marco Galli and Marta Malé-Alemany, head of the Robot Lab, told the students about the assignment. They explained the Makeathon’s links to The Green Mile research project. As part of this project, the Robot Lab is working with the architectural firm UNStudio to create circular wooden street furniture for Stadhouderskade. In this way, the partners are jointly contributing to the Green Mile movement, which gave the project its name and aims to transform Stadhouderskade into a sustainable and future-proof street.

‘By involving students in The Green Mile via the Makeathon, they learn to think about various different ways of putting circularity into practice,’ explained Galli. ‘During the Makeathon, they will also be working closely with UNStudio’s architects. This creates a valuable connection between education, research and professional practice. The great thing about this assignment is that the students are literally at the heart of it, because Stadhouderskade is right outside.’

Once Galli and Malé-Alemany had highlighted all the different aspects of the assignment, it was time to get started. The students had to sign up for one of five different groups, each of which matched a different stage in the process of creating the street furniture. For example, one group focused on the digital design process, a second group considered the production process with robots and a third thought about how to extend the life cycle. The students enthusiastically spread out over the various groups. Now that the ball was in their court, the positive energy was palpable.

Tuesday, 1 November: exploratory phase

In the days that followed, each group was supervised by a coach. They were given books, magazines and other materials to read and attended lectures on topics such as computational design and woodworking with robots. They also headed outside to Stadhouderskade to see the future location of the street furniture with their own eyes. After this first exploratory phase, it was time to get started with their ideas.

While the students were working at the Robot Lab, Galli looked back on the previous year’s Makeathon. Then, as now, the students were tasked with designing circular street furniture for Stadhouderskade. The major difference with the current assignment is the material they worked with. ‘Last year, we used old wooden floorboards from the Rijksmuseum for the street furniture. Although that was completely in line with the circular idea, it also turned out to have a disadvantage. If you work with residual wood, you don’t know its quality in advance. In this case, the wood did not prove resistant to rain and other weather influences. As a result, the furniture was ultimately not suitable for Stadhouderskade.’

The students and researchers are therefore taking a different approach this year. During this Makeathon, new wood rather than residual wood is used as the basis of the street furniture. ‘We’re now opting for a different approach to circularity,’ said Galli. ‘We’re researching how we can extend the lifespan of new wood for as long as possible. One way of doing this is by designing an object, such as a piece of street furniture, in such a way that it can be easily disassembled. This allows you to move it to a new location easily, turn it into to a new object with a different function or simply replace a damaged part. Put simply, you can adapt the object to all kinds of needs.’

Friday, 4 November: interim evaluation

The members of the five groups quickly realised how important it was to consult each other. Although they would soon become specialists in their own subject area, they had to continue to work together and exchange ideas in order to arrive at a feasible proposal. ‘For example, one team will work on the design of the furniture while another works on the production,’ explained Galli. ‘But if you don’t submit a design to the production team and ask whether it’s feasible, you run the risk of having to go back to the drawing board. This is therefore an important lesson of the Makeathon: students not only build knowledge about a subject area, but also learn that it’s essential to work with others to bring the project to a successful conclusion.’

On Friday, 4 November, four days after the start of the Makeathon, the time had come for the first interim evaluation. Each of the five teams presented their ideas and findings in order to pool knowledge from all the different areas of expertise. Once the presentations were over, they all got together to think about what the street furniture should look like. It led to a successful afternoon full of good ideas. Afterwards, students were able to head off and enjoy the weekend feeling satisfied. From the following Monday onwards, an intensive week awaited them: this is when they would start to construct an initial prototype of the street furniture.

Monday, 7 November: urban factory

At the beginning of the second week, the five teams were merged and the 25 students started building the piece of street furniture as a single group. In doing so, they made optimal use of all the facilities in the Robot Lab and got the various robots to work together, just like in a real urban factory. As an example, one robot cleaned and sanded the wood, while another cut the wood into pieces and a third processed it still further.

Galli was impressed by the ideas that the students came up with. ‘Among other things, they want to install sensors on the furniture to collect data, for example about the CO2 content in the air. If this is too high, the wood will turn red thanks to the integrated LED lighting. This ties in well with The Green Mile’s goal of creating awareness about issues such as sustainability and bringing them up for debate.’

Another idea was the creation of an augmented reality app in which users can view virtual prototypes of the street furniture. They can also create their own design in the app. The designs can be projected at full size at any desired location, so that it immediately becomes clear how the design will fit into the environment. Galli: ‘If you share this app with the stakeholders of The Green Mile, they’ll be able to create their own design and see the benefits on location. This is a wonderful way to make contact with all the parties involved.’

Friday, 11 November: result

It was Friday, 11 November: the last day of the Makeathon. Over the past few days, the students had worked in the Robot Lab until about 22:00 every night to get the street furniture ready on time – and successfully too, because at the end of the week they had produced a complete prototype. The students were proud of the end result. Galli and his colleagues were also impressed. ‘As lecturers and researchers, we’re inspired by their original ideas and enthusiasm. In the coming period, we’d like to keep developing the street furniture together with the students. It would be great if we could conclude the minor by working together to build a prototype on Stadhouderskade. I’m looking forward to it, because if you see what our students have achieved in two weeks, just imagine what they can achieve in ten weeks!’

The students, teachers and researchers at the circular street furniture

The Green Mile

A green oasis in the middle of a busy city. A place where you can walk, sit by the water, play and exercise. A place that makes room for nature and sustainable initiatives. The aim of The Green Mile is to transform busy, polluting and unsafe streets into green, sustainable and future-proof places. For this initiative, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences is working in partnership with UNStudio, the Rijksmuseum, De Nederlandsche Bank, Heineken and Blendingbricks.