Teaching robots how to paint

A German automaton called e-David proves you don't have to be a sentient life form to create art VIDEO

Topics: Video, Hyperallergic, Art, robots, Germany, Painting, Science, , ,

Teaching robots how to painte-David painting (screenshot from Vimeo)
This article originally appeared on Hyperallergic.

Hyperallergic

We’re fascinated with robots doing human things, from Elektro chain-smoking its way through the 1939 World’s Fair to the Turk automaton that was beating people at chess during the 18th and 19th centuries (there turned out to be a human hiding inside the latter, but still). Now a team at the University of Konstanz in Germany has trained a robot to paint.

Well, more like programmed, but their idea was to build a robot that doesn’t only create art, but through machine learning actually adapts to the painting process. For the project, called e-David (“Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Image Display”), the team took a welding robot that’s usually used in car manufacturing and altered it with sensors, a camera, and a computer — then put a paint brush in its metal claw.

The e-David process (via e-David Painting Robot)

The e-David process (via e-David Painting Robot)

Here’s the goal, according to the e-David team:

Our hypothesis is that painting – at least the technical part of painting – can be seen as optimization processes in which color is manually distributed on a canvas until the painter is able to recognize the content – regardless if it is a representational painting or not. Optimization happens intuitively during the drawing process and is highly dependent on the medium and its restrictions.

e-David doesn’t have a brain, but it can “look” at what it’s painting by taking a photograph after a brush stroke, and from that calculate what it will do next, and whether the painting should be made lighter or darker. With this “visual optimization” it then continues to delicately tap and finely drag the paint on the canvas, sometimes dipping the brush into cleaning water, until it’s complete, and then signs its signature backwards, which is a tad unsettling. It is a car robot after all, so the precision isn’t surprising, but the detailed results are pretty impressive for what is basically a giant metal arm that is just as capable as stabbing through the canvas with one lunge.

You Might Also Like

Art by e-David (via e-David Painting Robot)

Art by e-David (via e-David Painting Robot)

But of course, good art is more than just impressive execution. e-David could be more than just another robotic curiosity as an interesting tool for robot-human collaboration, without it turning into something cold and too technical. For example, Aurélien Bory’s Sans Objet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year had two men interacting with a massive industrial robot arm in a performance that was both beautiful and somewhat terrifying, with the machine very much a performer, but the human collaboration with it resulted in an interesting perspective on our interactions with intelligent machines more powerful than ourselves. The e-David team writes that the results of their project “might even influence our perception of what art is — besides the imitation of existing drawing styles (imagine what Seurat would have been thinking about a robot that helped him with the millions of dots) the machine might enable new techniques since labor plays no role any more.”

Here’s a glimpse of what e-David can do:

More Hyperallergic

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...