Calculating art: Meet e-David, the painting machine (w/ Video)

Jul 15, 2013 by Nancy Owano report
Credit: e-David project

(Phys.org) —Sometime in the future, you will be at an art gallery where you are drawn to a nice-looking tree, or haunting line drawing of a woman's face, or historical portrait, and you will wonder who is the artist. Eye the lower corner of the canvas and it will tell you, "David." What you might not realize is that David is a robot—e-David, to be exact. A team at the University of Konstanz in Germany have developed e-David as a robot "artist" that uses software to decide where to add the next brush stroke. After each brush stroke, e-David takes a picture, and its software calculates such moves as where the image needs to be lightened or darkened. At the University of Konstanz, the group said their project objective is to build a robot that can paint, pure and simple. By paint, they do not mean adding a fresh coat to a kitchen ceiling but delivering art.

The school's Department of Computer and Information Science has a structure where workgroups share a common research topic, and e-David is a project within the topic, "Exploration and visualization of large information spaces."

The robot is not "person-able," more like the metallic skeleton of a mythical and very studious canine. They used an industry robot normally used to weld car bodies, and enhanced it with sensors, camera, control computer, and art supplies. They chose the name "David" not because they especially liked that name but because it stands for what they tried to accomplish: Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Image Display.

The provides drawing commands that are executed by the machine. This can be considered as a step above humans painting- by-numbers: Just as one observes sidewalk artists repeatedly tweaking their lines and dabs and brush strokes as they fill an empty canvas, the robot does something similar. The device takes a picture of what it wants to copy. The robot watches itself paint and decides where to add the next stroke, constantly tweaking its moves based on what it's seeing through a camera pointed at its canvas.

"We establish a control loop using the camera in which the output of the is captured and new drawing commands are computed that correct the errors of the preceding step." As for art supplies, the team provides a generous outlay of five different brushes and 24 colors.

The machine's output raises the question of whether a machine can actually achieve works of artistic merit.

Isn't a good painting or line drawing by a human artist more than just a set of rules? How far are we going in expecting a system capable of "algorithms for spatial division" and "color and content composition" to result in comparable works of art?

Continued exploration with e-David could provide some interesting insights. "Our hypothesis is that painting – at least the technical part of painting – can be seen as optimization processes in which color is manually distributed on a canvas until the painter is able to recognize the content." They said that e-David "will enable us to enclose the whole process of drawing production into an optimization framework. This will allow us to investigate human optimization schemes and to find out to what extent such schemes can be formulated using algorithms."

It need not be a question of a future Picasso versus an e-David but rather an advantageous collaboration of artist with machine, one where the machine enables new techniques for artists.

Explore further: Repentir app: Exploring art at a stroke

More information: www.informatik.uni-konstanz.de/en/edavid/

Related Stories

Repentir app: Exploring art at a stroke

Apr 26, 2013

A unique app which allows you to peel back the layers of a masterpiece and uncover a previously hidden world has been developed by experts from Newcastle and Northumbria universities. The 'Repentir' smart phone and iPad app ...

A robot sketches portraits

Feb 17, 2012

Artists are often colorful personalities. This one, though, comes across as cool, precise and metallic – and is anything but extravagant. No wonder – after all, it's an industrial robot, one that ...

Charlotte robot tells the world where it's not going

Jun 03, 2013

(Phys.org) —A resourceful thinker who likes to learn as he goes, Kevin Ochs started out on a project with the intention of brushing up skills in C++ programming. He has come up with something quite interesting ...

Recommended for you

A robot dives into search for Malaysian Airlines flight

Apr 18, 2014

In the hunt for signs of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370—which disappeared on March 8 after deviating for unknown reasons from its scheduled flight path—all eyes today turn to a company that got its start ...

Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

Apr 16, 2014

A way of making hundreds—or even thousands—of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Students turn $250 wheelchair into geo-positioning robot

Apr 16, 2014

Talk about your Craigslist finds! A team of student employees at The University of Alabama in Huntsville's Systems Management and Production Center (SMAP) combined inspiration with innovation to make a $250 ...

Using robots to study evolution

Apr 14, 2014

A new paper by OIST's Neural Computation Unit has demonstrated the usefulness of robots in studying evolution. Published in PLOS ONE, Stefan Elfwing, a researcher in Professor Kenji Doya's Unit, has succes ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...