Kinds of Robot 4 AMR

AMR = Autonomous Mobile Robot

This kind of robot is most interesting to me because of its potential for mark making.

Autonomous means the robot is fully self contained-- not tethered or cabled to a another computer and not remoted controlled. The robot must operate solely on its own behavior (sense, think, act). That makes software especially challenging. First, the computer is likely to be small and limited. Second, the software must be capable of dealing with many situations and not shut down or get confused. Fortuanately, the behavior based software scheme developed by Rodney Brooks at MIT provides a good model. See Joseph L. Jones, "Robot Programming, A Practical Guide to Behavior-Based Robotics" from Tab. If your robot book budget is for only one book this should be the one.

Mobile means the robot moves through its environment, senses things about that environment through touch, light, color, etc. For my work this means that the robot is mobile upon the canvas.

Most drawing by computers is done with plotters or printers. Plotters are usually bigger, sometimes much bigger than the paper it plots on. Most plotters and printers move the paper not themselves because they weigh much more than the target surface. My robots must be smaller than the canvas so that it can manueveur upon it. Also the robot weight matters because it cannot depress or dent the canvas -- the larger the canvas the more this matters because the distance between supports increases.

Most of my robots are walking robots. This contributes to the quality of the mark. Whenever something walks the moment comes when it must commit its weight to one foot so that the other side is free to move. This causes center of gravity shifting (COGS). I use COGS to increase the dynamics in the brushwork.

I have made painting AMR's for several years now. My robots continuously evolve and are significantly different than any other AMR's I have seen. First, I use actual paint brushes and must deal with the many dynamics of brush handling (pressure, direction, orientation, deflectioin, twisting and many more) This is a lot more than pressing a marker or pen down constantly.

Ken Goldberg has done a couple of projects that show awareness of brush dynamics and I am sure there are others. Harold Cohen engineered these dynamics out of his process.

I hope by this time that people realize that painting with robots is a lot more difficult than painting without robots.


Kinds of Robots 3 Manipulators

This group of robots contains the most accomplished machines by far. We mostly see these as industrial robots. This group is large and highly developed because it has substantial economic value.

Ken Goldberg has demonstrated with many projects the substantial opportunities for making art with this type robot.

One definition of a robot is a device that senses its environment, thinks and then acts. These robots have this capability, but probably not applied the way that first comes to mind. These robots are task oriented rather than goal oriented. The are able to repeat a previously defined task.

Usually these robots have a world view - an internal understanding of their the world around them - either predefined, like semiconductor manufacturing equipment or learned like automobile welding robots. This world view establishes, a priori, what is around the robot. Although these robots have sensors these sensors are dedicated to understanding the state of the robot itself to deliver very precise positioning with high reliability and repeatability.

A subset of this group is called automatons. You have seen these at Disneyland or Chuck E Cheese. The automatons of today use the same parts and techniques as robots, but their heritage goes back through Christmas window displays all the way to eighteenth century clockwork automatons. Things like birds, chess playing, even a minature secretary that wrote cards.

Robots lilke this are naturals for kinetic scupture as seen in the outstanding work of Alan Rath, Carl Pisatouro, and others.


Kinds of Robots 2 ROV

ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. This category can be problematic about whether or not a specific ROV is a robot.

Mars rovers have substantial on board intelligence and many sensors. Because of the time lag due to the great distance between the operator on Earth and the rover on Mars, these vehicles can not be controlled directly. The receive a list containing goals, commands, and schedules from their operator and then carry them out autonomously (on their own). To me these are clearly robots.

Airplanes whose pilot is not on board, but at a remote console are not considered robots, by their makers and pilots. They have more sophisticated auto pilots than most airplanes, but are wholly dependent upon the pilot at the console for each individual motion. The pilot has all knowledge of the mission the plane has none.

Yet, on TV, we see Robot Wars, Battlebots, etc. that are popularly considered to be robots although they contain no computer or sensors of any kind. Functionally, they are exactly the same as radio controlled model cars which are not robots.

Are you confused yet? Clearly, I am.

F.I.R.S.T. , the excellent competition for high schools students has both ROV's and AMR's and calls both robots. Many of the college robot competitions on TV science shows or Robot Rivals are ROV's


Kinds of Robots 1 - human like

The main thing about robots is how incredibly stupid they are. -- James McLurkin

When I say I make art with robots, most people have an immediate idea. Unfortunately, that idea is usually far from what can be done. The main reason is that robot is a heavily loaded word in our culture today. There are many, often disparate things that are all called robot. All of them have some claim to using the name robot.

First are literary robots. We have to say first here because robots existed in literature long before any, except automatons, existed in reality. Literary robots as seen in fiction, plays, and movies are almost always humanoid. I would even include R2D2 as a humanoid robot. His most important features are his human like behaviors. Although his lack of language certainly puts R2D2 at an edge of humanoid robots rather than the center.

Literary robots have, of course, been used primarily to explore human issues. In my view, sadly, early literary robots explored how to get slavery right. One can even see Asimov's rules in this light.

Most movie robots have been costumes or puppets. Even R2D2 usually has a human inside. The metal skeleton of the terminator has a number of off screen operators.

Actual humanoid robots that are electromechanical devices with computers have been made, especially for research in Japan. This year has seen a popular Robosapiens toy capture the imagination of many.

Unfortunately today, an actual humanoid robot is able to do very little. They can walk short distances or smooth surfaces and climb stairs the fit a tight specification. They have also taught us a great deal about balancing. Actual humanoid robots fall down a lot, even in very limited and favorable environments. They fall down so much that one direction in humanoid robot research is building humanoid robots that know how to get up when they fall.

What can an artist due with a humanoid robot? A great deal. Although the major research autonomous humanoid robots have not and can not do much in this area, many other kinds of robot pursue an artistic and emotional response to a machine with a form or action similar to us.

Tadahiro Kawada's HRP-2 robot has a body designed by anime artists and for that reason seems much more engaging than other humanoid robots. By appearance alone this robot seems to have people believing they understand its movements and people project meaning into much more than I have observed with other humanoid robots. The size helps as well. HRP-2 is the same size as his inventors.

next time ROV's

please visit my website


Small Works Robot

spreading wide my narrow hands. -- Emily Dickinson

In December I made a robot for painting on small canvases. All of my robots to date have been 7" plus on one side at least with turning radii from 3" to 6". They won't work well on canvases smaller than 18"x24". I wanted to make small works both for quicker technique experiments and to show small works.

Zeb3 is about 4" by 6", but because I turned the wheels inward rather than outward I have a robot that is functionally very small. The turning radius is only 1/2" and it can turn in place. It is still a little unstable. Imagine if your car only had two wheels and they were behind the front seat inside the car and only about 3 feet apart. You can really turn, but not very fast.

I have never seen a robot with this idea and I have reviewed about 300 examples hoping to find someone who had done it before so I could shorten the learning curve. Programming is still simple: no spirals or conditional actions yet. The time to develop the robot took most of my available time in December and I only had 2 & 1/4 days to paint that month.

Here are someexamples that are each 9"x12":

Dreaming of Spring 3

Growth Pattern 1

Growth Pattern 2

This robot seems to be able to make stripes pretty well, so I may pursue that for a while.

These works won an Award of Merit in Manhattan Arts International's Small Works 2005 competition I just learned tonight.

See my Website


Art {Preposition} Robots

Those who do soon confront the unforgiving and unbullshitable laws of reality. -- Carl Pisaturo on building robots

There are many artists today working with robots. We can survey the field by substituting prepositions in the title phrase -- Art Of Robots, Art By Robots, and my favorite Art With Robots.

Art Of Robots

In this group I place artists whose end results is a robot. Usually as a kinetic or static sculpture. Alan Rath makes amazing robots, often including and sound technologies as well. His website has a number of video clips showing some of his work in action.

Carl Pisaturo makes metal robots with graceful dance-like motions.

Amorphic Robot Works with Lawrence Northey has made some very large active works of this type. Clayton Bailey, Chico MacMurtrie, Eric Paulos and Marque Cornblatt have also exhibit at The Tech museum.

Closely, related to these robots are performance robots. There is some overlap because some works above fit both ways, especially Alan Rath. His robots "One Track Minds" and "Robot Dancer" are wonderful performers. Frank Garvery's Omnicircus combines robotic, human performers and musicians.

Ken Goldberg has combined performance and web based interactivity. He often has web based projects that you can participate in like Tele-Twister or Tele-Garden. None are available today, but keep checking back for the next one.

Art By Robots

In this group are artist that substitute the robot for the human artist. Harold Cohen is the accomplished and famous artist in this group. In addition to his art, he and his robot Aaron did substantial artificial intelligence research. There are
many web resources

An overview of Cohen and Aaron

A Biography

Mostly about Aaron

About the research

There is also a link to a shareware program that duplicated Aaron's methods on your desktop or as a screensaver. Aaron

Art With Robots

This category is the one I like Art By Robots because the robot produces art work rather than being art work. Ken Goldberg has produced robots like this. You may have to scroll this web page far to the bottom to see these particular robots. He has adapted industrial "learning" robots by teaching them to paint. He has also made a CNC style robot Power and Water that probably belongs closer the "By" robots.

My work emphasizes the role of the robot as a tool to be used by the artist to extend what is possible. I think this is closer to actual role of robots and smart devices in our lives.

Robot Art Resources on the web



These sites have general information


often has news about robot art and so does



Between Two Points

In geometry we learn that a straight line is the shortest path between two points. It is also sterile, soulless, and uninteresting -- always dull and sometimes ugly.

A Failure to Communicate

Have you ever had trouble pronouncing Chinese city names on a map? You are looking at the transliteration of a visually represented language into a foreign phonetic system.

There are at least four sources for these names. The first is an amateurish one word at a time attempt by a person not trained in a phonetic system. Keelung, Kowlong, etc. These spellings are often heavily influenced by a dialect other than Mandarin, but they are usually trying to be Mandarin.

The oldest phonetic system for Chinese is called the Mathews system. When it is done correctly, it is strewn with apostrophes. Half of the words should have an apostrophe. Before the 1960's this was the most frequently used and produced monstrosities like Peiping and tsingtao.

Next is the Yale system, developed at where else, Yale. It is the closest to American English phonetics. English speakers have about a 25% chance of saying Yale system words correctly, Taibei, Shanghai.

The most common form is a political rather than linguistic solution. China developed the pinyin system. It is remarkably similar to the Yale system with a few substitutions thrown in. Qing instead of Ching.

All of these systems fail spectacularly. They are missing a phonetic dimension. Chinese is a tonal language and none of these systems typically show the tones.

Line Mechanics

We have a similar disadvantages trying to discuss lines. Our vocabulary is not just missing some terms, it is missing a dimension.

As a child, I had access to a poorly printed copy of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual (its about painting, not about gardening). This book has a section that names a shows hundreds of line types. It was commonly used in the nineteenth century as a reference and training for Chinese painting. The names are amazing. It was a shock for me to learn those misty Sung Dynasty landscapes were made with Big Axe Cut and Little Axe Cut lines.

I spent years with totally inadequate materials (kid's brushes, Skrip ink, typing paper) and a badly printed example that lost all detail. When a actually saw high quality Asian art it was like finally getting a drink of water.

Chinese art has a background in mark making that is thousands of years richer than Western art.

Let's say you wanted to make two lines -- one like iron wire and the other like silk. Could you do it? How would you even start? If you did, you would have an individual solution with maybe 5 minutes of history.

Chinese calligraphy is the underlying discipline of both writing and painting. It divides a line into three parts: beginning -- motion -- end. Seems pretty obvious, but try to find a western drawing book with even a hint of this analysis. The beginning is how the brush is applied to the paper. The motion is how the brush is moved including pressure, direction, path, speed, and more. The end is how the brush is removed from the paper. Although this is just mechanics, it is a lot more mechanics that you get in Western training (different tools make different marks)

When I began to learn calligraphy, I drilled in the same few pages of characters day after day, week after week. My frustrated teacher would grab the brush above my grip and drag me through the motions -- like this like this.

Finally I did get the basic mechanics down and I could write a couple of pages with the right mechanics (this took me months of 4 -6 hours a day). I asked my teacher for another example to follow. I thought I had this one down and was ready for a change.

My teacher said, "Before you were just making words. Now you are making calligraphy. It is very, very bad calligraphy. You should keep the same model until you understand that you are making thousands of mistakes in only two pages."

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