Designing With Bugs

Designing With Bugs

In January of 2013, we profiled a research pavilion made of robotically wound carbon-fiber, based on the structure of lobster shells.

The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart are back with their 2013-2014 research pavilion, again taking its design cues from nature, and taking the technology up a notch in the process.

This time, they have analyzed the structure of the elytron, the protective shell for beetle’s wings and abdomen. These structures rely on a double-layered system, a natural fiber composite of chitin fibers embedded in a protein matrix.

In cooperation with the ANKA Synchrotron Radiation Facility and the Institute for Photon Science and Synchrotron Radiation at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), high resolution 3D models of various beetle elytra were extracted through micro-computed tomography. Combined with scanning electron microscope (SEM) information provided by the University of Tübingen, they were able to analyze the internal structure of the elytra and use it as the basis for a double-layered, modular system for architectural prototyping.

The architectural version of the elytra were made using a pair of 6-axis industrial robots to wind carbon fiber and glass fiber onto a pair of effector frames. The fibers are resin-impregnated. When wound over each other or crossing each other, the liquid resin joins and cures, turning the fiber windings into a single solid.

The initial layer of fiber, glass fiber, is linearly tensions between the two frames, and serves as formwork for the next layers. Subsequent layers of fibers lie on and tension each other, resulting in doubly-curved surface that are not defined by the frames but by the interaction of the fiber layers.

The research pavilion consists of 36 individual elements fabricated by this method, each with an individual layout. The largest element, 2.6 m (8.5 ft) in diameter, weighs only 24.1 kg (53.1 lbs). The entire pavilion, with a footprint of 50 m2 (538 sf) and a volume of 122 m3 (4308 cf), weighs only 593 kg (1307.3 lbs).

The underlying notion is that nature, or evolution, has already invested a great deal of experimentation and research in the design of strong, lightweight structures. Rather than reinvent them, we can harvest this accumulated knowledge and put it to good use, a sort of  conservation of mental resources.

The pavilion, which went on display on the university campus in April 2014, took the Stuttgart students 1½ years to design and produce.


Institute for Computational Design – Prof. Achim Menges

Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design – Prof. Jan Knippers


Moritz Dörstelmann, Vassilios Kirtzakis, Stefana Parascho, Marshall Prado, Tobias Schwinn


Leyla Yunis


WiSe 2012 – SoSe2013:Desislava Angelova, Hans-Christian Bäcker, Maximilian Fichter, Eugen Grass, Michael Herrick, Nam Hoang, Alejandro Jaramillo, Norbert Jundt, Taichi Kuma, Ondrej Kyjánek, Sophia Leistner, Luca Menghini, Claire Milnes, Martin Nautrup, Gergana Rusenova, Petar Trassiev , Sascha Vallon, Shiyu Wie

WiSe 2013:Hassan Abbasi, Yassmin Al-Khasawneh, Desislava Angelova, Yuliya Baranovskaya, Marta Besalu, Giulio Brugnaro, Elena Chiridnik, Eva Espuny, Matthias Helmreich, Julian Höll, Shim Karmin, Georgi Kazlachev, Sebastian Kröner, Vangel Kukov, David Leon, Stephen Maher, Amanda Moore, Paul Poinet, Roland Sandoval, Emily Scoones, Djordje Stanojevic, Andrei Stoiculescu, Kenryo Takahashi, Maria Yablonina supported by Michael Preisack


Institute of Evolution and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology of Invertebrates, University of Tübingen – Prof. Oliver Betz

Department of Geosciences, Paleontology of Invertebrates and Paleoclimatology University of Tübingen – Prof. James H. Nebelsick

University of Tübingen, Module: Bionics of animal constructions, WiSe 2012: Gerald Buck,

Michael Münster, Valentin Grau, Anne Buhl, Markus Maisch, Matthias Loose, Irene Viola

Baumann, Carina Meiser

ANKA / Institute for Photon Science and Synchrotron Radiation

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) – Dr. Thomas van de Kamp, Tomy dos Santos Rolo, Prof. Dr. Tilo Baumbach

Institute for Machine Tools

University of Stuttgart – Dr.-Ing. Thomas Stehle, Rolf Bauer, Michael Reichersdörfer

Institute of Textile Technology and Process Engineering ITV Denkendorf – Dr. Markus Milwich


Images courtesy of The Institute for Computational Design, University of Stuttgart.  Copyrights as noted.