Apprentice 4.0

Dhruv Saxena
Dec 28, 2019 · 5 min read

This project aims to present a speculative identity of a traditional Indian craftsman in the context of industry 4.0. The project ventures into domains of cyber-physical systems, machine learning, digital fabrication and remote prototyping to speculate upon a future where the maker space is augmented with intelligent systems that learn and robotic systems that build. This new identity of the maker enables a revolution in the way we think about crafts and craftspersons and triggers inquiry and contemplation on future interactions, fabrication systems, skill-sharing and revenue models around the modern “maker”.

The term “Apprentice 4.0” refers to these augmentations that redefine the culture of the craft apprenticeship through analysis of the “master” craftsman’s skill and its tangible/material interpretation through connected prototyping systems and skill abstraction into cyberspace.

Premise

The project is essentially a critically thought bridge between the Indian “hand” crafted scenario and the characteristics of the industry 4.0 vis a vis smart manufacturing, connected systems, and internet of things, etc.

The present ecosystem of a generic Indian craftsman is a part of the unorganized sector of the economy and thus data garnered from a typical Indian artisan is either exclusively visual or purely market-driven, in its intent. A generic artisanal workshop is archaic in its tools and machinery and the artisan himself is connected in a very limited manner with rare uses of the internet and associated services for a professional utility.

Although technology has been implemented in the sector but has either resulted in replacing the handmade completely or is limited to passive electronic tools such as drills and lathes

The place of an apprentice in the Indian craft ecosystem still exists in its conventional archetype of a master-disciple learning system.

Scope/criteria

Since the project is an exploratory work about the identity of an artisan in the context of industry 4.0, our approach to the topic is based on speculative & critical design practices with an emphasis on the technological trends, socio-economic structure & design fictions triggered by this new proposed identity.

The project utilizes handcrafting techniques existing in various traditional crafts. To further define the scope of our project, the following criteria will act as guiding principles -

  • The craftsman should benefit(monetary and societal) from the proposed system
  • Digital augmentations or apprentices do not replace the craftsman, rather act as an extension to his identity in terms of his technique and associated “legacy”
  • The abstraction of the craftsman’s technique should be able to effectively enable fabrication in his/her aesthetic identity.

Proposed System

Apprentice 4.0 is envisioned as an extension to the craftsman and the flow of value in this maker centric system is as follows -

  • Craftsman is the source of value in terms of his skill, style, and legacy.
  • The key value in documenting the craftsman’s skill will be his intent, which in itself is a construct of the maker’s effort and decision set.
  • The intent, when applied to, or translated through the material, causes the form to change over time.
  • The above translation of value happens through specific tools intended for specific material/form manipulations.
  • Hence, the tool ”set” works as a bridge between the maker’s intent and the related changes in the form.
  • In essence, documenting the tool movement, material properties and change in form over time (in relation to the tool applied) can help define/derive the technique and aesthetic data set for each craftsman individually.
  • The documentation and processing of a substantial cumulative data set through visual cognition systems that utilize IR and ML engines would help abstract a skill/technique profile of the craftsman.
  • The abstracted profile could enable a robotic fabrication system to manifest the craft through the technique of the maker being abstracted.

Possible futures in the proposed paradigm

With this abstracted “individual” skill/technique profile, an array of possibilities becomes open for speculation. The primary trigger for us was the possibility of remote robotic fabrication in the style of the maker through a digital technique profile. This becomes a divergent node in our speculation in the sense that it offers a possibility of varied value models. There can be multiple ways of utilizing the technique profile abstracted from the individual craftsperson. All the possible futures, however, should be an extension and enhancement of the identity of the “master” maker.

Within the above-mentioned scenario and its constraints, we imagined in detail, the following futures. The ideas presented below are rooted in the current scenario and evolve in their narrative to project tempered imaginations of what the augmentation of a craftsperson would lead to.

  • With an abstracted skill profile of the focus artisan in place, fabrication through an artificially intelligent robotic system can assist the maker himself. The maker can delegate repetitive tasks to the enabled machine and can assume more decisive and critical roles in the craft practice. We believe such interaction between the master and the digital apprentice can largely affect the maker’s revenue model, aesthetics, form, scale and typology of the projects undertaken.
  • Remote manifestations of the technique profile can facilitate a contemporary extension to the maker’s identity. The key constraint to any remote manifestation is ensuring that revenue is generated to the maker every time his/her technique profile data is processed for manifestation. Such a constraint can be executed through blockchain technology so that a certain revenue is ensured to the craftsperson. This system in itself becomes a trigger enabling varied speculations concerning the identity of the “augmented” maker.
  • Another scope for interpretation of the technique profile is the digital reality realm. The visual identity of the maker may find applications in the domains of structure and form development in the digital three-dimensional space as well. One of the most interesting possible futures triggered may redefine how we perceive maker-designer collaboration and partnership. Remote collaboration with the cumulative technique profile of the craftsperson may emulate a very interesting association of the maker’s identity.

Conclusions and further inquiry

In its entirety, this project is a methodical and detailed inquiry into the possible future identities of an artisan. The present scenario exhibits a singular, static, and an archaic value to the traditional maker. The value chains and the market avenues to the maker are limited. Products and services, around the current persona of an artisan, are passive and archaic and have propagated a constrained identity associated with craftsmen. The proposed “enabling” of a traditional maker sparks our interest and we invite further collaborative speculation from the community.

Some triggers for further inquiry can be -

  • Translation of traditional craft techniques as data sets may find very interesting utility in parametric modeling in the digital 3-dimensional space.
  • The new financial identity of the maker will spark a generation of radically different business models associated with the craft and practitioner. These business models may exist beyond the limitations of geography, language, and age, etc.
  • New collaboration typologies may be triggered by the contemporary data associated with the maker. The geographical and linguistic constraints may dissolve in this new future where the craft technique and the scope of its utility have become immensely democratic.
  • The “legacy” of a maker and its interpretation may happen in a variety of ways including experiential concepts like “skill museums” and “VR driven collaborative maker spaces”.

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