Caltech CAST




California Institute of Technology


CO Architects


2018 | ENR Regional Best Project, Small Project

The design-build Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST), located on the first floor of the WWII-era Karman Laboratory Building, tests the technology behind commercial and consumer-based drone applications. The facility includes an enclosed aerodrome and a custom fan wall.

The aerodrome is an outdoor space used to test drones in a covered area. The custom 10′ x 10′ fan wall that creates the atmospheric conditions for this testing is a one-of-a-kind prototype that can test the performance of single or formation-flying drones in rain, hail, sandstorms, turbulence and gust. Among the challenges that MATT had to help solve were how to circulate air in a partially enclosed space, where to get the air supply, and how to mitigate any noise generated.

The drone arena is partially covered by a steel structure canopy with PTSE roofing. To mitigate concerns around interaction between the canopy and the immediately adjacent Guggenheim building in the case of a seismic event, MATT, in conjunction with structural engineer JAMA, devised the unique solution of using very large slip joints for a relatively small roof area combined with massive structural steel support.

To transform the interior space into an open floor plan, MATT removed all the columns in the existing L-structure. MATT coordinated with grad students and scientific consultants to ensure that the Caltech CAST lab had the structural support and high voltage power to meet their needs.

Photo Credit: Tom Bonner