Even though centuries have passed, the act of designing and making objects is still primarily the same: the human mind comes up with a project, the human hand sketches it down, and finally, human hands get to work on manually making the dream a reality. Throw in some modern computer-know-how and manufacturing technologies in there, and you’ve got the foundation for just about any mass manufactured object.
But what if you reversed this process? What if … the computer was in charge of crafting the project?
Such is the premise behind the chAIr project is. The big ‘AI’ in the project name stands for “Artificial Intelligence” – which pertains to two generative neural networks at the heart of the project. Put together by designers Philipp Schmitt and Steffen Weiss, chAIr reverses the roles of humans and machines by using the AI to generate a variety of different chair designs which are then brought to life by the designers.
It all starts with the AI, which is trained using a data set consisting of 562 chair pictures on Pinterest (See? Your photos DO have use on that website!). Unlike humans and other programs (Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher comes to mind) which take into consideration things like proper weight, balancing, and the number of chair legs, the AIs only care about how the chair looks.
Once the AI has a couple of chairs in mind, it generates images it thinks can fit within the 562 real chairs presented to them. Very few of these images will be turned into pieces of furniture, but the idea behind the project is to stimulate Schmitt and Weiss’ artistic minds to create something out of the ordinary.
This is where the human factor comes in. Using the AI-generated images, the two designers generate sketches of what they envision are functional furniture pieces. A backrest here, a chair leg there – it’s fascinating how Schmitt and Weiss’ sketches flesh out what initially look like poorly watercolor-painted images. Eventually, these sketches make their way into CAD.
But they didn’t stop there, it seems. Out of the hundreds of images generated by the AI and the handful of sketches made by the designers, four of these mind-twisting chairs were brought to life. Crafting these miniature 1:8 scale chairs posed many problems, such as which materials to use and if the chairs would stand. In the end, the four mini-chairs were made from balsa wood, brass tube, and aluminum mesh.
While it isn’t a very efficient method of creating chairs which support a person’s weight, the chAIr project helps bring out the creative juices from designers who are tired of seeing the same old chair. Here’s to hoping they can apply the program to other pieces of furniture as well!