MARS 2.0 at FABFEST 2017

One more step towards autonomous robotic construction

Workshop Goal

We will develop a distributed 3D printing system to manipulate material on site resulting in emergent forms.

Workshop participants will experiment with different scenarios, goals and behaviours in simulation and on actual robot.

Autonomous Robotics

Follow how we are developing our MARS robots on the Blog


Research Question

Can small scale robots navigate autonomously and collaboratively, on a mountainous landscape, change the position of sources of matter to a target crater and determine when the task is completed?

During the festival days, we aim to provide a platform for investigation of diverse algorithms. Whilst the development of pathfinding methods will be enhanced, other computational procedures will also be investigated, such as complete autonomy through local sensing and biologically inspired swarming methods.

Workshop Goals

We will teach a self-organizing swarm of small construction robots which follow local rules to build an emergent structure.

In 2017, we would like to concentrate on one task: robotic autonomy. The challenge is to develop the electronics, algorithms and communication in order to enable our robotic swarm to navigate from defined sources of matter towards one target and back until the goal is accomplished - the base units are successfully covered. For that, the robots were simplified in terms of their capabilities to physically displace matter as we will focus on software and hardware to improve autonomy.

Furthermore, we aim to enhance the multidisciplinary of the challenge and in order to accomplish this year’s goal the team invited graduate students from the Faculties of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Architecture at the University of Westminster to collaborate. The first discipline will investigate a number of pathfinding algorithms, the second will, together with the MARS team, develop the agent’s local sensing. Whilst the third will be responsible to develop a landscape that, in line with the FABFEST pavilion rules, will take into consideration possible geometries to be encountered as ideal sites for a base settlement on MARS. Whilst all the teams need to communicate and coordinate with each other to achieve the goal.

Background & Research methods

The research explores a prototype for a 3D printing system to locate and sinter Martian soil, as previously envisioned by Foster + Partners.

Behaviour has significance for understanding biological intelligence and therefore it will be the main focus of the workshop. It is understood as the interactions between an organism and its environment where the behaviour of the organism affects its own perceptions, and thus its future actions and perceptions. Applying this concept to robots results in a field of autonomous behavioural machines capable of operating in partially unknown and changing environments without human intervention.

These emergent forms and behaviours are simulated first where different simple local rules and their impact are explored. The resulting forms are evaluated for their aesthetic value as well as structural stability. This experimenting includes multiple cycles and allows programmers to observe and better understand the relationship between bottom-up local rules and their corresponding output.

Robotic Swarm

We will build on the highly popular Makeblock a robot system which can autonomously navigate and manipulate virtual soil from sources of matter to a target crater.


The robots will be able to navigate on a mountainous terrain autonomously between sources of matter and a target crater.The participants will be encouraged to test diverse algorithms and behaviours on the system.


Each robot will be equipped with Makeblock ultrasonic, brightness, gyro/accelerometer, RGB and other sensors as well as Wifi and Bluetooth communication parts.


Classic pathfinding algorithms will be tested, autonomous navigation through local sensing and swarming behaviours such as Boids by Craig Reynolds will be experimented.

Currently Happening on Mars

We are still developing and improving our robotic system. Have a look on our Blog page to see what we are up to.

Planned Schedule

Throughout the eight days we will try to capture the development of the behavioural rules and the cumulative construction.

Day one and two (3rd and 4th of July)

Faculty of Architecture - Cardboard Landscape Construction

Faculty of Computer Science - Pathfinding Algorithms Development

Faculty of Electrical Engineering - Autonomous Sensing System

Day three (5th of July)

Faculty of Architecture - Projection and light tests

Faculty of Computer Science - Pathfinding Algorithms Tests on Landscape

Faculty of Electrical Engineering - Autonomous Sensing System tests on Landscape

Day four (6th of July)

All - adjustments and development

Pathfinding simulation mode

Autonomous mode

Swarm mode

Remote drive mode

Day five (7th of July)

All - finalising tests and rehearsal for festival

Day six and seven (8th and 9th of July)

All - Festival days - demos of modes and interaction with the public


Our team is part of the multidisciplinary Specialist Modelling Group within Foster + Partners. We come from diverse backgrounds with architecture and computation being the common ground where our interests meet.
Josef Musil

Josef Musil

Workshop Expert
Josef is part of the research group SMG within Foster + Partners in London and focuses on applied research, application of new technologies and algorithmic design.
Jan Dierckx

Jan Dierckx

Workshop Expert
Jan is part of the Specialist Modelling Group at Foster + Partners where he combines an internal consultant role with research in large-scale manufacturing and the integration of robotics and automation in the office.
Xiaoming Yang

Xiaoming Yang

Workshop Expert
Xiaoming Yang is an environmental designer focused on daylighting and lighting design. He studied in National University of Singapore as an electrical engineer and now works at Foster + Partners.
Miriam Dall'igna

Miriam Dall'igna

Workshop Expert
Miriam works as associate Design Systems Analyst at the Specialist Modelling Group at Foster + Partners and Computational Design Tutor at the University of Westminster.
Octavian Gheorghiu

Octavian Gheorghiu

Workshop Expert
Octavian graduated from the AADRL and now works as a design systems analyst at Foster + Partners within the Specialist Modelling Group. He is a visiting lecturer at The Bartlett UCL.
Sam Wilkinson

Sam Wilkinson

Workshop Expert
Sam works at Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group. His interests are in computational intelligence, additive construction, and the future.

Get in Touch with us

Still have Questions? Don't hesitate to contact us!

Workshop locationLondon, UK

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