Space & Innovation

Tasty Tech Eye Candy: Robot Art

Can robots create something beautiful? You be the judge.

Can artificial intelligence lay paint to paper to create meaning and evoke emotion? The answer lies in the results from the first Robot Art competition. The contest, organized by artist Andrew Conru who holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering design from Stanford University, aims to foster innovation in A.I. and integrate aesthetics and technology.

It was open to students from universities and high schools and awarded cash prizes in two categories: fully automated execution or manually generated. Here are the results from the 10 winners, which were chosen thanks to feedback from the public as well as that from a panel of judges. Did the robots create something beautiful? You be the judge.

Above: The 1st place award of $30,000 went to TAIDA, from the National Taiwan University's Department of Mechanical Engineering for its portrait of Albert Einstein. TAIDA is a fully automated robot artist that uses a visual feedback system to compare the image it paints on a canvas with the original image. It then improves upon the painting until it's satisfied.

2nd Place: CloudPainter from George Washington University received $18,000. Cloudpainter, a fully automated robot, worked from a photograph as a reference point. The robot decides which photo is the most pleasing and also decides how to crop the image. A visual feedback loop determines how much paint to apply and where.

3rd Place: NoRAA from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Italy received $12,000. Two unnamed paintings here demonstrate the capabilities of this fully automated robotic artist, which is built on top of an Arduino micro-controller. The system generates images in watercolor or acrylic.

4th Place: E-David of University of Konstanz in Germany received $10,000. Team members chose the image and then E-David used a visual feedback system to paint this portrait of Isaac Asimov.

5th Place: RHIT of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Ind., won $8,000. Several pieces from this fully automated robotic artist were a crowd favorite, including this depiction of the Chicago skyline.

6th Place: Picassnake of the University of Manitoba received $5,000. Picassnake is connected to a laptop and runs on software that translates sound -- via a microphone or an MP3 music file -- into abstract paintings.

7th Place: EyePaint from the Imperial College London received $4,000. Don't let the simplicity of this illustration fool you. EyePaint is a telerobotic system that uses an eye tracker to follow where a person is looking and then translates that into art. Such a system could allow people with disabilities to create art.

8th Place: Simple but Significant from the Benha Faculty of Engineering in Egypt received $3,000. Although the art here is a simple, fun sketch, the team from Behna Faculty of Engineering was able to get half of Egypt to vote online for their robot.

There was a tie for 9th place. The Guild of Robotic Artisans from University of Minnesota received $2,500. Their team consisted of engineers, scientists, and artists from across the university and arose out of an event to inspire middle school students to pursue science and engineering.

9th Place: A1 from Carnegie Mellon University received $2,500. The painting was formed using a robotic arm that allowed a robot and a human to share the experience of painting at the same time. The team said, "We believe that by using a robotic arm, people seem to have the illusion of autonomy and agency of the robot while interacting with it, which has an impact on the nature of the interaction."