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University of Sydney student creates painting robot

A mechanical engineering student from the University of Sydney has programmed a robot that can produce a traditional Chinese ink painting, a style known as guóhuà.

The robot is fitted with two paintbrushes and a pot of ink, and has been programmed to paint small chickens – the traditional elementary subject of apprentice artists – on art paper.

The student, Wenzheng Zhang, combined his long-term love of drawing and painting with skills he acquired during his mechanical engineering studies.

“What I have achieved is the frame work of a painting process which uses a program that allows the arm to paint in a similar way to a human. Instead of using image processing to determine the image’s trajectory, a mathematical and geometrical relation is used,” Zhang said.

Zhang said that the robot replicates the human thought process, contemplating the canvas and “work out” how to carry out the drawing on its own.

“I’ve created a flexible program which can continue to be developed with the end goal being a program that can create a piece of art instead of simply copying existing works,” he said.

To program the robot arm, Zhang used an application called Python, an open-source language used across a variety of applications.

“The code must be as flexible as possible for two major reasons,”  he said. “One is that there are too many parameters to be controlled, and some of these are not controlled for this project. Another reason is that these parameters should be adjusted by the computer to achieve a certain sense of creativity.”

Paul Briozzo, from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, said that the robot is an important step in the marrying of two often opposed disciplines.

“Wenzheng’s work is of great significance because it is an exciting initial example of the fusion between two traditionally opposing fields, engineering and fine arts,” Briozzo said.

While the robot is moving to a set of commands from a predefined, compiled database of motion that considers factors traditionally of importance to a painter, Briozzo said that one day robots could be programmed to think for themselves, using figurative styles and an understanding of form to create entirely new works.

“Future efforts could see AI-capable computers developing their own creative images that can then be post-processed into commands that robots convert into the traditional medium of artistic image representation, painting,” Briozzo said.

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