Design Robotics: ‘Flourish’ By Katrina Tyler

Set within the walls of the flourishing Redcliffe Peninsula, amidst the pulsating retail and dining precinct in New Port Waterside Park in the Moreton Bay Region of South East Queensland, is a richly symbolic art installation consisting of five hand-beaten glimmering totem poles made of clusters of stainless-steel discs, grandiosely erected in a vast open space.

Regarded as “Flourish”, its value goes way deeper than a mere dramatic entrance formation to a freshly minted, state-of-the-art, recreational park and retirement village.  Its clustering forms of intricate patterns and surface finishes, and the complexity and delicate fragility of the natural world captured as it cycles between growth, decay and evolution, are thoughtful metaphors which have been masterfully designed, skillfully crafted and cleverly integrated onto the site.

Katrina Tyler, the much-coveted and multi-faceted Melbourne-based visual artist whose practice shifts between refined jewelry making to sculpture and sizable public art, was commissioned by Stockland for this waterfront revitalization undertaking.

Urban Arts Project (UAP), recognized for its commitment to always be at the forefront of cutting-edge design and manufacturing solutions, closely collaborated with the artist.  It may also be said that akin to Tyler’s multi-faceted practice across a range of mediums, is UAP’s multi-dimensional approach to design-led manufacturing; utilizing robotics, vision systems and user-centered interfaces to enhance and accelerate the entire process.

A story of movement and adaptability

“Flourish” is a site-specific response to the creative challenge of Stockland to design and construct an elegant and delightful feature that is distinctive to the site, and centered on the notions of movement in nature and movement in art, all whilst incorporating core themes of new, coastal and natural.

With these themes in mind, I commenced researching the local area of Moreton Bay. I was taken by an account of corals migrating from more northern areas and populating the bay, which I saw as having a metaphoric correlation to the Newport development”, narrates Tyler as she recalls what the work truly symbolized.

Creating a significant marker of place that is intricately designed yet abstract, and carrying with it an embodiment of cellular activity has always been part of Tyler’s creative vison. Her purpose is to arouse recognition of the familiar within the viewer, spark curiosity about change, progress and interdependency of species, and draw people who view the work to a closer inspection of his or her own place within the broader urban ecology and natural environment.

For Tyler, accounts of the adaptability of certain species, comparable to corals migrating to Moreton Bay, assumes their potential to easily adapt and thrive in a new ecosystem.  It is also this same confidence and optimism which the artist beckons to bestows upon the new residents of the New Port area, along with a significant rallying cry to blossom and actively flourish in the surrounds of their new home.

Regarding this piece more closely, “Flourish” imbues upward movements in its design with spouting water jets adding a playful and unexpected element.  All of these put together is suggestive of feelings which are positive, hopeful and aspirational and that which Tyler and the rest of the folks at the UAP Foundry in Brisbane anticipate to transpose to each and every individual fortunate enough to bask in the work.

Experimenting with AR Technology

“Flourish” is comprised of 5 totem-like forms in varying heights of 2,500 millimeters and 3,000 millimeters, with each vertical element carefully crafted from a cluster of hand-beaten discs that have been individually heated and power-hammered before entering the process of welding and texturizing by hand.

Note that no two discs are alike in the fabrication of this delicate and intricate masterpiece; and as one could have easily predicted, realizing “Flourish” involved a time-consuming and exacting process which called for high levels of detail.  But UAP’s expertise and knowledge in design-led manufacturing abetted the entire process.  Consequently, the process applied gave justice to Tyler’s inspired concept and design.

From scaling, sorting and placing of the individual elements within the overall design, to keeping within the limitations of time and cost, augmented reality proved to be the pragmatic choice.

For Tyler and UAP, the entire process turned out to be an exciting journey working alongside AR technology.

In an interview, Tyler spoke enthusiastically about Augmented Reality and the use of the Microsoft HoloLens in the fabrication stage,

I was really excited and intrigued at how this new technology was going to be employed, and curious about the specifics of how it will be operated.”

Following a series of sketching and molding in 3D, each of the 5 elements have been color coded and further nuanced, to breath in life to an otherwise cold and lifeless hard metal piece.

A sense of organic flow and organized randomness was deliberately introduced in the design.  Likewise, to meet the artist’s desired hand-beaten aesthetics and surface treatment, each disc was heated and then individually power hammered by hand before it was welded together.

In the welding process, AR technology further augmented human ingenuity with a hologram of the focal points appearing over the actual work to.  This assisted in determining the orientation of each of the 316 stainless-steel discs spread across the workshop floor.

The invention of AR headsets with Microsoft HoloLens enabled the team at UAP to visualize the disc patterns clearly, map out specific sections accurately for welding based on the color codes, and ultimately position each of the discs consistently and in accordance to the design.

The same technology also helped in assessing the overall aesthetic quality which required a well-organized system for iterative design changes and improvements throughout the fabrication stage.

To this date, Tyler remains captivated by the quality in detailing of the hammered stainless-steel finish, and how it has made to look a lot softer in appearance.

The finished work has surpassed my expectations!  It’s amazing how the use of highly intricate and advanced technology was key in executing a harmonious and organic finish for the work.  The way the texture of the hammered stainless-steel catches and reflects light enhances the sense of movement and activity I was aiming to capture.

She further complements the process and technology that went into the fabrication saying,

The theory of this technology is one thing, but seeing it in action is unbelievable! I was able to see vision of what the fabricator sees through the goggles and it’s amazing that a scale version of the artwork is visibly located on the ground in front of you! The artwork can be walked around, checked and worked on in real time. I am simply in awe of the accuracy that this technology allows. It’s totally removed any guesswork from the process”.

Everyone involved in the project has been extremely enthusiastic about their user experience and its outcome.  To those directly involved in the craft, incorporating advanced manufacturing technologies in design and fabrication was like having an extension of their hands and sight, but with much more control and calibrated precision. To Tyler, it was about maintaining the conceptual integrity of her vision and what a transformative change it has been for her to have found an extension of her process too.

Emulating the handwork finish that is evident in her jewelry making process was a real eye-opener, too, so when asked about her thoughts on advanced manufacturing technologies without hesitation she jumps at the chance of propelling her capabilities with further experimentations on its supporting systems in her future works.

I am excited and inspired by the increased scope this allows for myself and my fellow artists and makers.”

It is now anticipated that more of UAP’s endeavors involving bespoke artworks and mass customization structures will begin to apply AR/VR systems where possible on the workshop floor.

UAP collaborates on a mission to make all things possible

As with other industries, technological advances and human artistry in manufacturing and design is now seen to converge.  And while others still fear that the widespread of automation and advancements in technology will start to kill jobs, in UAP we celebrate how industrial robots and its supporting technologies integrate not only to assist in the tediously repetitive, but also to complement the human creative mind and support its productivity and what it is truly capable of.

It is the beginning of a long-term era where robotic vision systems and software user-interfaces are slowly but surely blending into our day-to-day, moving from factory floors to eventually interacting with people and solving problems in different contexts and to varying degrees. Though still in its early stages, watch this space as UAP is committed to always be at the forefront of novel solutions and meshing of technology with human creativity to make all things possible.

Through the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), UAP is collaborating with the Design Robotics group from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and RMIT University as an industry partner to present a range of new possibilities.  The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.

Making headway in the design process and pushing the boundaries in industrial robotic capabilities is a move to empower the people to navigate the ever-increasing complexity of the workplace and support their human experiences.  At its heart is taking the best of what robots and machines can do which is to figure out problems, and the best of what humans can do which is introduce the social intelligence and contextual understanding to create much better products and services for the way we live in the 21st Century.

For businesses like UAP, this will result in an increased ability for mass customization. Dealing with tight deadlines, engineering challenges, and logistical complexities to deliver the full vision should be the last thing in every artist’s mind.  And while it is about improving efficiencies, part of the exercise is to also design an optimal user interface that will allow and facilitate more inspired and enjoyable creative outcomes between the artists and the machines.

The idea is for every artist to be able to integrate more experimentations using the latest robotic manufacturing technologies and techniques to inform their creative concepts and design thinking; and for the rest of the crafts people at UAP to access it and thus fulfil their collective creative expertise.  Ultimately this is not a race against the robots and machines, but rather a race with them.