Are robots going to replace artists? A robot with the ability to draw portraits is having its finishing touches added at Cornwall-based robotics company Engineered Arts.
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Once complete the robot called Ai-Da will use special cameras and a bionic arm to create one-off pieces of art. “She’s going to actually be drawing, and we’re hoping to then build technology for her to paint,” Project leader, British gallery owner Aiden Meller said.
Robot to engage audiences about ideas in art theory
Ai-Da's head has been carefully designed to look very human-like, even her eyebrows have been made hair by hair by makeup specialists. Meller hopes Ai-Da won’t be a simple portrait artist but will engage audiences in a conversation about the role of technology and art in our daily lives.
“As a performance artist she’ll be able to engage with audiences and actually get messages across; asking those questions about technology today,” Meller explained.
Ai-Da's eyes are cameras which can find and make eye contact with humans in the room as well as track movement.
“There’s AI (artificial intelligence) running in the computer vision that allows the robot to track faces to recognize facial features and to mimic your expression,” said Marcus Hold, Design & Production Engineer at Engineered Arts.
Her bionic arm will be able to grip a pencil, and her software gives her the ability to draw portraits of visitors to her ‘studio.’ Ai-Da is still in development but once complete is described to have a mixed-race appearance with long dark hair, silicone skin, and 3D printed teeth and gums.
The budding artist will have her inaugural exhibition, titled “Unsecured Futures” in May at the University of Oxford, and her sketches will go on display in London in November.
The best of art robots around the world
The international robot art competition takes a break this year but previously had attracted the best robotics engineers around the world to develop robots that use traditional mediums like paint and pencil to create artworks.
The competition was started by Standford graduate, mechanical engineer Andrew Conru, who is dedicated to finding robotic engineers who can pioneer new mechanical painting devices. The rules of the competition state that "Paint/color must be applied with one or more physical brushes by a robotic system."
In 2018, nineteen teams entered their creative robots all taking slightly different approaches to the idea. Some went down the humanoid path and created robotic arms that mimicked the movements of its human creators', while others went for more abstract mechanisms.
The physical approach differed as much as the output of the robots. Some were built to replicate famous paintings or to draw objects that appeared in front of them; others used AI to have their robot create entirely new abstract compositions.
A pool of $100,000 prize money was up for grabs. CloudPainter, developed by independent American roboticist Pindar Van Arman took home the top prize of $40,000.
CloudPainter relies heavily on AI, which Van Arman says is becoming increasingly popular in art robots. He says the use of AI raises questions about when the robot is merely performing a task or actually demonstrating individual creativity.