Smartgeometry Workshop and Conference

Research Fellow Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira was selected to participate in a workshop at the Smartgeometry workshop hosted by the University of Toronto earlier this year. In this post, Muge reflects on the workshop and conference.

Smartgeometry was founded in 2001 and is now a biannual event.  It starts with four days of themed workshops followed by a two day conference. Smart Geometry (SG) workshops and conferences have been influential to many disciplines including architecture, design, engineering and mathematics. Originating as a collaboration between industry, researchers and academics, SG has always been a platform where innovative ideas become a reality, informing the potential needs of the disciplines towards a better future.

The workshops are called clusters and are organised around open calls coordinated by ‘cluster champions.’ Cluster champions are collaborative teams from academia and practice who get together to prepare a proposal, or a response, to a specific theme. SG’s open call encourages researchers, academics and industry to discuss possible research questions around the proposed theme and a research avenue, via a project. By working on this project, researchers and practitioners from industry and universities have a chance to see how these technologies can be applied. Participants for each of the clusters applied for a position via open calls with cluster briefs defined by cluster champions. Participants were selected, from a competitive, international pool of applicants, based on their background, research expertise and current interests.

The conference, which took place after the workshops furthered discussions around the workshop themes informed by different perspectives from multidisciplinary invited keynote speakers. The conference was curated in a way that would feed back into the outcomes from the workshops. In that manner, it was a dynamic conference, where the keynote speakers build on the work produced by the clusters and open up new agendas for future speculations. The conference was followed by Q&A sessions that allowed the workshop participants to engage with the keynote speakers openly. These exchanges also provided opportunities for future collaborations.

The University of Toronto hosted Smatgeometry under the theme “Machine Minds”, which revolved around machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Current discussions on machine learning and AI, generally consist of depressing scenarios of humans coming to an end or humans losing their jobs. Websites like “Will robots take my job?” are opening up discussions about how we should give away our passions for our professions. As a trending topic for many disciplines, SG focused on how machine learning and AI can be utilised for design and what could be some other positive and constructive ways of approaching this topic. The clusters explored the applicable areas of Machine Learning and AI, whereas the keynote speakers of the conference tried to create an understanding of what is machine learning and AI and its impact on our society, as well as the methods they use them in their practice.

The clusters at SG were:

–          Smart materials (Fibrous timber joints, Materials as probes)

–          Smart geometries (AI strategies for space frame design, Mind ex-machine)

–          Smart fabrication methodologies (Soft Office)

–          Smart and innovative ways of perceiving the environment (Behavioural Enviro[NN]ments, Data Mining the City, Fresh Eyes, Inside the Black Box, Sound and Signal)

All of them used cutting-edge technologies and customized software to define geometries. These technologies included interactive tables, VR headsets, industrial robots, mobile robots, CNC routers, sensors, microphones, and many more. One of the most dominant software platforms used by clusters was Rhino with the Grasshopper plug in, as a unifying platform, but there was also other software such as Unity, Processing, Arduino, Python, or custom build software for the clusters. More information on each of the clusters can be found here.

Highlights from conference discussions were;

–          what is AI and machine learning,

–          how AI and machine learning will affect the future of societies and how we can get prepared,

–          collecting, interpreting and managing data,

–          natural intelligence versus digital intelligence,

–          machine learning versus human learning,

–          robotics and advanced manufacturing,

–          interactive installations,

–          complex geometries.

The schedule and the keynote speakers can be found here.

As part of the SG2018 there was also a trip to see the new workplace of Autodesk Toronto. Autodesk has been a close collaborator of SG as a sponsor and providing know-how, keynote speakers, cluster champions and event participants. The new Autodesk workplace has been designed using generative algorithms and has a research centre for exploring new technologies. One of the clusters (Mind ex Machina) took place in this research centre, using two UR10 collaborative robotic arms with custom build open source software for SG18. It seems Autodesk has started to take a pioneering role in research by collaborating with research institutions, researchers and companies through these research centres. With artist-in-residency programs, they are opening up their facilities globally to makers and curious minds. A list of Autodesk research centres can be found here.

Looking forward to the future, next Smartgeometry will take place at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, 2020 with another challenging theme!