Peter Schmitt’s work addresses contemporary challenges in digital fabrication to inspire new approaches to making and creating in diverse fields such as robotics, sculpture and design. His projects integrate mechanical and electronic hardware components with software towards a language of “object-oriented mechatronics” that will enable a new generation of “original machines,” the title of his dissertation research under Prof. Cynthia Breazeal in the Personal Robots group. Peter’s thesis asks how advances in CAD/CAM processes will enable the integration of the concept, design and fabrication of mechatronic assemblies to enable the creation of more original machines. An original machine consists of a shell which organically and fluidly blends and integrates actuators, bearings and if applicable sensors and other components. These original machines can be conceptualized and designed using parametric actuator typologies built into a CAD/CAM environment and made including all mechanical components necessary for the servos and bearings using rapid manufacturing especially 3D printing. Unlike existing kit-of-parts approaches to mechatronic assemblies or overly expensive customizesd processes, Peter’s dissertation proposes another approach which tries to combine the benefits of a parametric tool with an open-ended design process. It allows the user to gain control over all aspects of the object including not only its shape, form, size, and material properties, but also its functionality, control, and animation. It uses the computer and computational tools holistically to integrate design, fabrication and controls overcoming the limitations of both the kit-of-parts approach and the free-form process. The dissertation has contributions on multiple levels. A host of actuator assembly examples and the parametric design tool present a body of novel work that illustrates the benefits of going beyond off-the-shelf actuator assemblies and kit-of-parts for original machines. The design tool and the accompanying examples will empower more users to design original machines with custom actuator assemblies using the latest digital fabrication tools. Finally, these explorations will illustrate how new CAD/CAM tools can facilitate an interdisciplinary exchange between design-oriented and engineering-oriented users.
Previously a member of Prof. Bill Mitchell’s Smart Cities Group at the Media Lab, Peter’s work focused on electric vehicle design, especially integrated wheel assemblies (patent pending). He designed and built three winning cardboard boats applying parametric design and fabrication strategies. Together with a team, he won the MIT Dept. of Architecture’s Mini-Skyscraper competition for which the team built a (40-foot/12-meter) responsive structure. At the Media Lab, Peter has served as Highlands and Islands Enterprise Fellow (2007 to 2008) and he was recently selected as a Hasbro Fellow (2010 to 2011).
Peter holds a Master of Science (2007) from the MIT Media Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and a Diploma in Fine Arts and Sculpture (Akademiebrief, 2005) from the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf, Germany. He studied under Thomas Ruff, Richard Dunn and Klaus Rinke who awarded him the title of Meisterschüler, the highest honor which can be awarded by a Professor. Peter was awarded a Cusanuswerk scholarship (2003-2005) to pursue his graduate education.