Protopia focuses on augmenting the importance of Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) machines in fabrication, assembly and prototyping. The project aims to develop a new prototyping process that enables additive prototyping (rather than subtractive as in most current systems) and functions at any scale. Protopia explores the potential of combining robot arms and three-dimensional weaving technology to create a new, high accuracy prototyping machine that can be used for on-site fabrication and prototyping. This machine could be used in many industries such as aero-space, architecture, and automotive. It would also be suitable for environments that are difficult for humans to inhabit like remote mountain or desert regions, deep sea or outer space!

The project combines two technologies: robot arms and three-dimensional weaving. Industrial robot arms nowadays are not only used for repetitive assembly line tasks, by also for composite lay-up like in the aircraft industry or for bodies and sails of high-end sailing boats. Nonetheless, these automated robot arm systems are mostly stationary and depend on molds to form the shapes of the final product. Three-dimensional weaving overcomes a need for molds. Pioneering civil engineers have adapted three-dimensional weaving machines to produce woven I-beams in variable sizes and straight or curved. However, this technique is stationary. Protopia investigates the potential for on-site construction machines that would cut down on overhead in management, coordination, fabrication and transportation.

Peter Schmitt , PhD Candidate, Smart Cities Group, Media Lab