Of the 39 entrants this year, no two teams took the exact same approach, but the goal was the same: to produce artwork physically painted by robots, with real brushes and canvas. Or snakes. More on that in a minute.
This is where the RobotArt competition gets really interesting. While a few of this year's entrants are essentially mechanical in nature — robotic arms programmed or controlled by a human artist — most incorporate some kind of generative function within the machine itself. These robots are designed to collaborate with human artists, or in some cases, create art all by themselves.
For instance, one of the bots in competition creates original imagery by tracking the movements of dancers and transposing the choreography into lines and colors. Another uses electrodes and custom algorithms to turn the electrical activity of the brain into art. Then there's the Anguis system, in which a snake-shaped soft robot is cut loose on a horizontal canvas, generating abstract imagery as it slithers around.
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The robot artists and their human handlers will compete for more than $100,000 in awards and prizes in this year's competition. Winners will be determined based on a combination of public voting via Facebook, plus assessments by a panel of judges including working artists, critics, and technologists.
The selection process is overseen by RobotArt founder Andrew Conru, who is funding the competition personally and plans at least a five-year run. If that name sounds familiar, it’s might be because Conru was one of the pioneers of the early internet. He founded FriendFinder, one of the earliest experiments in social network and dating services, as well as the digital advertising platform Adknowledge. Conru is currently CEO of FriendFinder Networks.
“I made a lot of money on tech and I thought I wanted to give something back,” Conru said from his home in Seattle. “I thought, what's the best way to leverage it? What about a competition to encourage creativity in tech people all over the world.”