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Published on Feb 13, 2010
The Mita Laboratory is researching smart sensor networks that include robots, along with diagnostic methods, for obtaining information about the environment that surrounds a living space.
To make future architectural spaces easier to live in and safer, the aim is to make them come alive by using robots. And to pass such spaces on to the next generation, the aim is to construct systems that retain information about the spaces as DNA.
Q. In the architectural world, theres long been an attitude of learning from nature. For example, Antonio Gaudi used waves in buildings, and built curved surfaces like seashells into rooms. In the Church of Sagrada Familia, if you go inside, youll see pillars that resemble sticks of celery. The architect has positioned the branches skillfully, by learning from plants. This is also very efficient in mechanical terms. But in most buildings, only the structures incorporate lessons from the living world. Living organisms give birth to the next generation, and have immunity to viruses such as influenza. But buildings dont have such capabilities. Our idea was that we wanted to give architecture this kind of biological response capability.
Living buildings, which were previously hard to achieve, are now becoming more and more feasible, as people develop sensor technologies that have the five senses of living organisms, compact computers to serve as brains, and network technology to extend nerves into every corner.
Q. With buildings so far, even when new technology arises, hardly anything changes: basically, there are walls, a roof, and a floor. But if there are a variety of sensors in a building, and robots live there together with people, its possible that comfortable living spaces will become different from those of the past. I think that spaces themselves will change rapidly when we incorporate such new things.
As the first phase of such progress, the Mita Lab has been studying structural health monitoring, which checks the health of a building using lots of sensor data. The Lab is currently working to make this practical, in collaboration with 15 businesses.
Q. Buildings normally vibrate due to wind and passing traffic. Structural health monitoring uses vibration sensors to investigate the state of a building. This lets people know whether the building is currently safe, so for example, if theres an earthquake, it lets people know whether they should evacuate immediately, or whether they can stay where they are. I think this could be used in making business decisions; for example, for that kind of property, the rent could be a bit higher than usual.
As a further step forward, the Lab is researching ways for robots to coexist with buildings. Robots play the role of the five senses or the immune system, automatically collecting information about what has happened to the building, or what sort of problems have occurred.
Q. I think the most interesting thing is that this research theme has been very hard to handle in previous architectural faculties. For example, the researchers need to know about sensors, and to know a lot about information processing as well. They also need to be familiar with databases, so I think this research is uniquely appropriate for us in this architectural faculty. We also have robot specialists, and experts on sensors and networks, so we can collaborate with those people. Our ultimate goal is to make buildings resemble living organisms. So this is very enjoyable research. Of course, its difficult. Ultimately, it would be good if buildings themselves could make their own DNA and build the next building. But thats a really difficult subject, so all of us, including the students, are having fun working towards it step by step.