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June 6, 2013 10:38 AM   Subscribe

MIT Media Lab's Silk Pavilion, a geometric structure machine-woven with silk thread and then reinforced by the efforts of 6500 silkworms. Watch the beautifully-done making-of video.
posted by BlackLeotardFront (16 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool.

I love that they refer to it as "swarm printing," and I can't stop smirking at the inclusion of Dr. James Weaver from Harvard.
posted by blurker at 11:00 AM on June 6, 2013

I am both amazed and repulsed.
posted by notyou at 11:10 AM on June 6, 2013

I have to apologize. I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun.
posted by gwint at 11:15 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, great. Soon, even the bugs are going to have to work in low-wage manufacuries, just to get enough cash to buy some lousy mulberry leaves. This looks nice now, but wait until Capitalism gets its hooks in!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:19 AM on June 6, 2013

Sounds fascinating. Too bad the MIT media lab couldn't make the web-site (pun intended) work on an iPhone.
posted by TedW at 11:20 AM on June 6, 2013

The more I read the description, the lamer this sounds.

Step 1: Watch a silkworm.
Step 2: Staple a string to a gazebo.
Step 3: Construct some "artistic" language for the website. Remember to get "CNC", "biological", "digital", "explores" and "relationship" in there!
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

this was incredible, I didn't expect them to put the worms on the ball. However, i wish they had let it run long enough for the worms to coat the entire thing, and then talked about (A) how expensive it was, and (B) how much better it was than normal cloth
posted by rebent at 11:51 AM on June 6, 2013

DU, if you look at the illustrations at the source website, you'll see it's a bit more complicated than that. They calculated the density and pattern of the material (as the worms would fill it in) to create certain patterns of light. Also, the technique used by the CNC machine was based on the silkworm style. I think your breakdown could also be used to deconstruct space travel as throwing a rock in the air higher than you can jump and constructing artistic language about "exploration," "discovery," and "astronomy."
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:10 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi DU, those are fair questions to ask, but I think you'll find that this particular project goes well beyond your description (disclaimer, I work down the hall from this team).

CAD software was used to design the sphere, surfaces (including the circular holes), software generated a model for the string, and then a robot arm was used to weave weave the initial panels. It's a beautiful extension of the group's previous work on robots that weave. One of the more subtle points about this process is the ability to specify the density of the weave at certain spots and have the algorithms adjust the weaving design for variable density across the single surface.

The team is also 3D-tracking the silkworms as part of research on silkworm behaviour.

It's also beautiful as a work of art.
posted by honest knave at 12:11 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

honest knave, can you tell me the building where this thing is? It doesn't appear to be anywhere in the documentation. I'm sure it's obvious to anyone from the area but I'm clueless. Wanted to include it in an article I'm writing.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:28 PM on June 6, 2013

Looks Awesome.
posted by llatech5 at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2013

I got to see this recently, and it is very impressive. There is something about the blurring of the abviously artificial with the obviously biological that I find very appealing, and the way it captures and filters the light is beautiful.

That said, my favourite aspect of this project is that according to my guide, not all of the silkworms (or maybe their eggs) were successfully removed, and so visitors to this pristine, elegant, minimalist space occasionally encounter a worm wriggling along the floor, having plummeted from some crevice in the ceiling. We can employ nature, but not always control it completely!
posted by metaBugs at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2013

This is why I love silk moths! This is why I think they are so amazing! So complex, so simple, and so beautiful, but so ugly they are cute.
posted by strixus at 2:47 PM on June 6, 2013

BlackLeotardFront - it's in the MIT Media Lab's building, which is here.
posted by metaBugs at 2:51 PM on June 6, 2013

I went looking for information about keeping silkworms as pets, and found a charming little site that also has "Locusts now available in BULK!". You know, for those times when a medium-sized plague of locusts just doesn't fill your needs.

I love that we can order biblical cataclysms online these days. Living in the future rocks.
posted by metaBugs at 3:42 AM on June 7, 2013

I love that we can order biblical cataclysms online these days.

Including a plague's worth of frogs!
posted by TedW at 11:27 AM on June 7, 2013

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