Friday, April 19, 2013

Supplying a Robot with Paint

Paint delivery one of the more challenging aspects of art robotics. Paint is messy, wet, complex, and ruins a brush that's allowed to dry. I use oil paint because it's extremely beautiful, but also because it's a particularly difficult medium that art roboticists tend to avoid.

Spray paint is the most common solution to the problem. (Ink works as well; I'll address that in a future post on drawing.) The first artistic robots, and the ones I consider most successful, are spray painters. They work in factories worldwide, like this trio in Germany:

This is an ideal application for robots. It's a toxic setting that requires an absolutely steady, smooth and consistent hand. Spray paint requires a constant distance from the surface to create an even coat, which is much easier for a robot to calculate than a person. Though the paint won't give them respiratory problems, it can still gum up the works, which is why they're fitted with protective socks.

My 6 month old palette
It takes a lot of dexterity to get oil paint onto a palette. Selecting, grabbing, moving and squeezing the tube, along with several iterations of cleaning the brush when finished. I've tried every mechanical delivery system I could think of (paint rolled out of tubes by motorized rods, linseed oil delivered through a solenoid-opened tube to dry pigment, hanging bottles of diluted paint with mechanized lids). Until my robots have a hand built for more than a paintbrush it's something I'll do for them, so we can keep using my beloved oil paint.

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