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Tensegrity R. Buckminster Fuller

Fig. – One of the images used by R. Fuller on his original article back in 1961 (Portfolio and Art News Annual, No.4). […] There have been recent news references to structures which I have designed for firing to the Moon. Six hundred pounds is the approximate weight of my thirty-six foot diameter sphere self-openable from a thirty-six inch diameter ball. There can, and probably will, be much larger units, which I will discuss later in this disclosure. Of first interest to engineers and artist-conceivers is the fact that my potential prototypes of satellite- and moon-structures are tensional integrity, omni-triangulated, high-tensile-cabled, spherical nets in which local islands of compression act only as local sprit-stiffeners. The local stiffeners are so oriented that they angle inwardly and outwardly between comprehensively finite, exterior and interior, tensional, spherical nets, thus producing positive and negative waves of action and reaction in inter-stabilized dynamic equilibrium. […]

Tensegrity: 1. Definition coined by R. Buckminster Fuller (architect, engineer and cosmologist), who is best known for his geodesic domes (surely, you will recognize some of these).  Tensegrity is a portmanteau of tensional integrity (check below some passages from his original article in Portfolio and Art News Annual, No.4, 1961). It refers to the integrity of structures as being based in a synergy between balanced tension and compression components. The term “synergetics” may refer more abstractly to synergetic systems of contrasting forces. 2. Structure using distributed tension to hold islands of compression. 3. “The tension-bearing members in these structures – whether Fuller’s domes or Snelson’s sculptures – map out the shortest paths between adjacent members (and are therefore, by definition, arranged geodesically). Tensional forces naturally transmit themselves over the shortest distance between two points, so the members of a tensegrity structure are precisely positioned to best withstand stress. For this reason, tensegrity structures offer a maximum amount of strength.” (Donald Ingber). 4. Was also a term used (unfortunately, let me add) by Carlos Cesar Arana Castaneda (guru! born 1925, Peru) to refer to some movements called magical passes (a series of meditative stretches, stances and movements) that he said were developed by Native American shamans who lived in Mexico in times prior to the Spanish conquest. 4. Tensegrity Ritual Suicides?! Patricia Partin and several other Tensegrity activists went missing after Castaneda’s death in 1998. Later Partin’s body was found in Death Valley Desert. She had apparently committed ritual suicide.

[…] One cannot patent geometry per se nor any separate differentiated-out, pure principle of nature’s operative processes. One can patent, however, the surprise complex behaviors of associated principles, where the behavior of the whole is unpredicted by the behavior of the parts, i.e. synergetic phenomena. The latter is what is known as an invention, a complex arrangement, not found in nature, though sometimes superficially similar to nature. Though superficially similar in patternings to Radiolaria and Flies’ Eyes, geodesic structuring is true invention. The Radiolaria collapse when taken out of water. Flies’ Eyes will not provide structural precedent or man-occupiable structures. […]

[…] It is a sad fact that the world of patronized design is the last area of commonly accepted social behavior where piracy is considered ethical. Patrons hire designers to steal their competitors’ work. Patrons hire designers to steal other non-professional designers’ fresh-new crops of potential economic growth. Only by joining forces will the architect-, scientist-, engineer-artists be able to eliminate this intellectual cancer of the regenerative processes. […]

[…] All these Geodesic events were news items simply because they were synergetic surprises, ergo contrary to the obvious. Copied geodesic ventures in higher modular frequency of triangular Geodesic subdivisioning, or other less symmetrical employments of the Geodesic structural integrity than I have as yet undertaken, do not constitute invention.Nor does the variation warrant exemption from the temporary economic authority granted to me as a patent. […]

For some seconds, just imagine having these 50 m² – 8 meters tall artifact constructed (above) by tiny Giant Architects in a plaza over a big city near you. Over this youtube video several scientists have filled the big city unearthed with 10 tens of cement during 3 days. Then calmly (taking several weeks), have digg it to the bone. To have a clue on what I mean just imagine having all these at Times Square  plaza in New York! or at the front-door of the  Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (in fact a giant spider is also there – check photo below). Colonies of eu-social insects use stigmergy in order to do this, being a good reference the work done by Karsai back in 1999 at the Artificial Life MIT Press Journal (here is the abstract – unfornately I have it on paper but not scanned):

# István Karsai, “Decentralized Control of Construction Behavior in Paper Wasps: An Overview of the Stigmergy Approach“, Spring 1999, Vol. 5, No. 2, Pages 117-136.

Grassé [26] coined the term stigmergy (previous work directs and triggers new building actions) to describe a mechanism of decentralized pathway of information flow in social insects. In general, all kinds of multi-agent groups require coordination for their effort and it seems that stigmergy is a very powerful means to coordinate activity over great spans of time and space in a wide variety of systems. In a situation in which many individuals contribute to a collective effort, such as building a nest, stimuli provided by the emerging structure itself can provide a rich source of information for the working insects. The current article provides a detailed review of this stigmergic paradigm in the building behavior of paper wasps to show how stigmergy influenced the understanding of mechanisms and evolution of a particular biological system. The most important feature to understand is how local stimuli are organized in space and time to ensure the emergence of a coherent adaptive structure and to explain how workers could act independently yet respond to stimuli provided through the common medium of the environment of the colony.

Another interesting paper (available online) is the more recent work by Mason at the 8th Artificial Life conference, in 2002. Below I have selected part of the introductory text:

# Zachary Mason ,”Programming with Stigmergy: Using Swarms for Construction“, in Artificial Life VIII Conf., Standish, Abbass, Bedau (eds)(MIT Press), New South Wales, Australia, pp. 371-375, 2002.

(…) Termite nests are large and complex. A nest may be as much as 104 or 105 times as large as an individual termite (Boneabeau et al. 1997) a ratio unparalleled in the animal kingdom. The nests of the African termite sub-family Macrotermitinae are composed of many substructures, such as protective bulwarks, pillared brood chambers, spiral cooling vents, galleries of fungus gardens and royal chambers. For all the architectural sophistication of termite nests, termites themselves are blind, weak and apparently not responsive to a coordinating authority. This work attempts to borrow and generalize the termite construction-algorithm, permitting artificial, decentralized swarms to be programmed to build complex, composable structures.
How do small, blind termites manage to build (relatively) huge, intricate nests? Work on this question includes a simple, decentralized building model (Grasse 1959) (Grasse 1984), an empirical study of termite building behavior (Bruinsma 1979), a mathematical model of the synthesis of pillars in termite nests (Deneubourg 1977), and a model explaining how modest environmental variation can cause the same termite behaviors to generate qualitatively different structures (Boneabeau et al. 1997). Most relevant to this work is (Bruinsma 1979), which records three feedback mechanisms governing termite behavior. In the first, a termite picks up a soil pellet, masticates it into a paste and injects a termiteattracting pheremone into it. When the pellet is deposited, the pheremone stimulates nearby termites to pellet-gathering behavior and makes them more likely to deposit their pellets nearby. Second, small obstacles in the terrain stimulate pellet deposits and can seed pillars. Finally, a trail pheremone allows more workers to be drawn to a construction site. Termites and many social insects interact stigmergically – that is, communication is mediated through changes in the environment rather than direct signal transmission. Computer simulations have used stigmergy to reproduce termite’s pillar-making behavior and ant’s foraging and the spontaneous cemetery building. These applications rely of qualitative stigmergy | individual agents react to a continuous variations in the environment. An example of quantitative stigmergy is (G. Theraulaz 1995), a simulation of wasp nest building. Wasps build nests by depositing cells on a lattice. Whether an empty cell is lled depends on the adjacent cells. Because all wasps have the same deposit-triggers, multiple wasps are able to simultaneously work on a single nest without without ruining each others work. A set of deposit-triggers is coherent if each no stage in the building process can be confused with an earlier stage by making only local observations, thus obviating the need for centralized control.
The goal of this work is to generalize the construction methodologies of the social insects and create a language for stigmergically assembling complex structures. Such a language permit swarms of agents to erect interesting architectures without benefit of a central controller or explicit inter-agent communication. The primary advantage of this approach is that stigmergically controlled swarms have minimal communication and no coordination overhead. Also, very little processing is demanded of agents, and the swarm can tolerate a degree of agent error. On a more abstract plane, this work is an example of designing emergent behavior. (…)

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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