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.

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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.

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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


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