Why Robots Paint

(with a tipped hat to Burton Silver)

Ok, so let’s begin at the end… or at least the pinnacle of the art so far:


From Eno Henze – about whom more shall be said later… “I try to stress the idea of a drawing that is the result of a collaborative process between me and the machine” – the machine being a fairly big printer.

Which begs the question, what is a robot? Surely not just a printer? We’ve had those for years. Can’t robots do more than one thing?

It’s a bit of an iffy question really – my own printer (that I use about 3 times a year) can print, photocopy, scan, send faxes, do OCR… In certain respects it’s cleverer than I am, much like this computer that I share my internet connection with. Robots are already here – we expected them to look like C3PO but they’ve been sneaking in through the back door, demonically possessing our household appliances for years now – our refrigerators are now smart. Our cars are filled with computer chips. Smart This, Smart That. Video recorders have been their own bosses for years now.

But apart from video recorders… we are in control of them? Yes – for the moment – every robotic controller is a machine/human hybrid. The point of the art collected here though – is that the human is not guiding the brush.

And anyway, printers are close siblings to the robot that created this:


The distinctions are becoming harder to define.

Anyway, there are a lot of robotic artists out there – here’s a selection.

Most robotic painters are Scribblebots. A Scribblebot is only as good as its paintbrush. The ones above are made by attaching cell-phone vibrators to toothbrushes. The ones below are made by putting hamsters in micro-zorbs – so they’re not really robots either, but there are plenty of spherical robots out there that could do much the same sort of things so… anyway, here they are.


Roombas (vacuum cleaning robots) appear to have morphed into a generic platform for all sorts of things – so here are some examples of Roomba-Art

And this of course – which demonstrates what I mean about the quality of the paintbrush making all the difference:


– a spray-can variant here:

Some of these Scribblebots do occasionally graduate into high-art… like this example from Milan

and another series of masterpieces from Eno Henze


From the sublime to the slightly more ridiculous: A latte printer:

and another roomba, printing patterns on the floor, then vacuuming them up again


And back to the sublime again – and industrial robot that’s got religion. A Biblebot:


So there you go. I did also manage to amass a fair few sculpture bots, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

So let’s end at the beginning. A variant of the very first autonomous painting machine:

Which I’ve included because the music is cool.

Robots can do music as well of course, although some are more about looking good than actually being musical


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  1. […] to Why Robots Paint is […]

  2. […] simple mechanical hand-helper (you fly sideways across the page) basically turning you into a human scribble-bot, loosely choreographed in time to some music. When the song is finished, you can send it to your […]

  3. […] looks a lot like the Biblebot from last […]