Joto Is the Self-Drawing Robotic Display of Tomorrow

The British design studio Those wants to modernize illustration in the digital age while providing a playful new medium for art and communication in a world driven by short texts and hastily written emails.

Life is like a blank slate - and Joto is too. Within a day of being unveiled as part of a Kickstarter campaign, Joto, a connected robotic display that draws with a pen, managed to reach half of its £100,000 ($123,840) goal, and for apparent good reason.

The device, which costs $199, turns pixels into pen and ink, enabling the creation of beautiful illustrations in your home. It can send messages across the world and write reminders. It's a picture that can draw itself and a message that writes itself too.

Those - the young British design studio behind the product - is intent on modernizing illustration in the digital age while providing a playful new medium for art and communication in a world driven by short texts and hastily written emails.

Jim Rhodes, a co-founder of Those, was previously a graphic designer by trade who had an interest in mechanical engineering and product design. He was frustrated by the lack of creativity he saw in the composition of storefront window displays. Where most people see mannequins, he saw an opportunity.

So he created a digital drawing system called the Woodpecker - the Joto's predecessor. All of the Woodpecker's mechanics were hidden inside a compact unit that operates along a frame and can operate with a variety of writing implements. Rather than draw attention to the robotics of the machine, the devices presentation emphasized the beauty of the pen.

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"One of our key design principles with the Woodpecker was to make sure the robotics were not front and center. It is why it ended up being a character. It had to feel unthreatening," Rhodes remarked to Seeker. "Traditional engineering approaches to similar computer numerical control (CNC) machines are heavyweight frames and enclosures with lots of wires and peripheral equipment. We wanted to strip this right back in order to make the pen the sole focus."

One of the biggest challenges Rhodes and his team faced was engineering the Woodpecker so that it could work on upright surfaces. This extended to the Joto, with the addition of its own rewritable display.

"Normally, similar machines would work flat on a surface," said Rhodes. "We've taken a lot of innovative steps to make sure Joto looks great when it's hung on the wall in your home."

While the device can be directed to reproduce images and an artist's original creations via an app, and can even receive texts and messages from friends that are reflected on its display, Rhodes is quick to emphasize that the Joto is not an interactive printer.

"The beautiful thing about Joto is that it doesn't work methodically from top to bottom, line by line," he explained. "It draws as the artists created it, or as a person would write. We spent a lot of time making sure letters were formed as you would write and not how a robot would write, for instance."

This gives Joto a unique character. Its human-like fluidity stands out when it draws, and all of the focus is on the pen maneuvering across the blank canvas.

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Joto gained immediate notice when it was posted on Kickstarter, and reached its fundraising goal in just three days.

Rhodes has since been taking suggestions to make the device even more useful. A popular idea suggests integrating a calendar so that the device can automatically update schedules. Businesses have requested larger displays for their lobbies, and others have called for smaller versions as well.

"I'm sure in the future there will be a whole range of Joto's for different uses," Rhodes said.

For now, Rhodes is excited for about "365 Days of Art," an app he's developing for the device that promises a unique, curated illustration for each day of the year.

"I love the idea that I can wake up to something new every day and it can either be useful, beautiful, or both," he remarked.