Parametric Algorithms to Extract Root Traits for Biology and Biomimicry

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Houette, Thibaut
Stachew, Elena
Naményi, Claudia
Miesbauer, Jason W.
Gruber, Petra
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The study of tree root systems has been introduced in a biomimicry framework for engineering design because ofcurrent problems with soil instability due to urbanization, climate change, and the subsequent increase of extremeweather events affecting the built environment. Current civil and coastal infrastructures are static, limited byinsertion techniques, monofunctional, and unable to adapt. In nature, root systems grow through various media asa dynamic, adaptive, multifunctional, and self-healing structure. Root systems’ morphology can inform the design of multifunctional infrastructure.The biomimicry transfer from root biology to technology is currently limited to generic morphological principlesand strategies. Manual methods to measure and analyze root system architecture are labor-intensive and timeconsuming,resulting in a lac􀁏 of available data and difficulties when comparing results between studies. Recently,digital imaging techniques, including photogrammetry, are deployed to generate virtual 3D models of root systems. Characterization of root system traits allows the abstraction and biomimicry transfer of specific root traits ofinterest (e.g., topology, surface-area-to-volume ratio, departure angle, tapering, porosity, curvature) to inform thedesign of architectural applications. Such characterization requires a standard method to measure root traitsautomatically, and reliably.A parametric algorithm was developed with computational architectural tools, Rhinoceros and the plugin Grasshopper,to extract biological root traits of interest from virtual 3D models and find emerging patterns for biomimicry transfer.A skeletonization algorithm, developed in Grasshopper, extracts root system topology and associated architecturetraits from 3D models of root systems. A manual step is needed to remove irregularities. Due to the large amount ofroot data exported, a brief statistical analysis follows to find emerging root morphology patterns. Finally, abstractedpatterns will be applied to technical parametric designs toward multifunctional civil and coastal infrastructure.This semi-automated process, extracting system architecture of biological tree roots from 3D models, not onlyserves the transfer of biological knowledge to technical applications, but allows for improved studies of rootmorphological traits in a systematic way, and potentially further investigations such as the adaptation of differentspecies to various environments. Furthermore, it also showcases the potential of architectural tools for research onthe morphologies of biological systems.
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