DESIGN: Robot Guided Silkworms Help Create Dome


MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter research group has created a silk dome with fibers guided by a robotic arm, and finished the structure with live silkworms. The project intends to explore how digital and biological fabrication techniques can be combined to produce architectural structures. Meditated Matter says of the project, “Our goal is to enhance the relation between natural and man-made environments by achieving high degrees of design customization and versatility, environmental performance integration, and material efficiency.”

Researchers attached tiny magnets to the heads of silkworms to track their movements. They used this data to program a robot to thread hexagonal structures to give a base and direction to the silk worms placed on the structure that were to finish the domes. They also studied how light affected the worm’s production.

While the project may seem like a conceptual art project with a very generous budget, the team hopes to learn ways to improve 3D printers from the silk worm’s mechanics. Silkworms “print” sophisticated structures with a hard outer shell and soft interior for their cocoons by adjusting the density, thickness, and positioning of the fibers. As researchers study these movements, technology moves ahead in it’s infinite quest to catch up to nature.


You can find out more about MIT’s Media Lab and the project here.