Artistic Robot Can Draw a Picture of Your Face

Robots have been known to do a lot of things, from painting cars on an assembly line to assisting in surgical procedures, but one thing they are not known for, is being artistic. This is because robots have traditionally been designed and built with utilitarianism in mind. That’s also the case with one particular robot built in Germany whose day job is analyzing reflection patterns on processed materials. During his off hours, though, he becomes an artist in the trusts sense of the word. He draws portraits.

The robot, not named because that might imbue it with more human personality than it actually possesses, was designed and built by the robotlab group, at the Center for Art and Media ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. Originally, the Los Angeles Times reports, the robot was only supposed to use it’s arm to snap photographs of objects from certain angles so as to allow for computation on its reflective properties. That helps engineers figure out how best to place reflective material on a child’s backpack for instance. But one day, one of the engineers had the bright idea of seeing if they could get their robot helper to sketch pictures of the things it images. Then, what started as a sort of goofing off activity between tests, turned out to be a stroke of, not maybe not genius, but inspiration perhaps.

As it turned out, it was harder to get the robot to render good portraits than the engineers thought, the Times reports. The robot tended to be too literal in its assessments which tended to result in crowded imagery as the robot tried to draw every shade, angle and line. To overcome these problems, the engineers gradually tweaked the robot’s software, causing it to draw less and less, until eventually the pictures the robot drew became very strong reproductions.

Then, the engineers shifted their focus, allowing the robot to concentrate on human faces. Subjects would sit where designated, then, the robot would move its arm into just the right position and using the camera fixed to its arm, it would snap a photo, process it for just a moment, then set to work attempting to reproduce what it saw.

The result as visitors to this year’s CeBIT exhibition in Hanover can attest, are the talk of the show. The robot, which is actually nothing more than an arm bolted to the floor deftly moves its pencil about, dutifully sketching in the details of a face until after about ten minutes, it pulls the sheet from the drawing board, displays it for the subject, and almost imperceptibly, bows.

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