I think if we can all be objective about one thing, it’s that the enjoyment of art is subjective. Some people can sit in front of a painting for hours, appreciating it for far more than just the brush strokes it took to create it, while others think of art museums as the most boring places on Earth. But the e-David (Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Image Display) robot doesn’t need to value art, because it can duplicate it with near perfection. Luckily, it can’t lose one of its ears, since it doesn’t have any.
Created by researchers at Germany’s University of Konztanz, the e-David was once a normal welding robot until it was equipped with a camera, some sensors, and a computer programmed to “read” art and convert the image into a series of motions for the most part. The bot will photograph a painting and then attempt to replicate it by comparing the host image to the duplicate, making changes on the fly after determining whether areas are too dark or too light, or where more details are needed. It chooses from a variety of brushes and has a palette of 24 colors to choose from. It’s pretty astonishing, even though the device is still in its infancy.
With a young age comes limits, but they’ll probably be conquered before too much longer. At this point, e-David works best with a quick-drying acrylic, and though black and white is easier for it, color forgings can be achieved. One of the time-consuming functions the bot is hindered by involves a brush stroke to the side of the painting every time it dips its brush, to ensure an equal amount of paint on the bristles. These hardly sound like big obstacles, right? Check out the video below to see the device in meticulous action.
While this form of reverse-engineered art may sound like a kick in creativity’s pants, the researchers are only trying to mimic the eye of the artist, not the ideas that drive him or her. “Regardless of what we implement,” says researcher Oliver Deussen, “the machine will never be a person. It will only have a very limited idea about what it is doing, no intention. Our simulation is only about the craftsmanship that is involved in the painting process.” It’s kind of like teaching a robot to build a house without telling it how to be Frank Lloyd Wright.
Now that they’ve nailed the basics, any improvements that e-David gets will probably involve programming that can tell the difference between painting styles and a more precise handling of the many different kinds of brush strokes. They also hope to teach it the general ideas behind what it’s painting, allowing it to recognize a landscape, a bowl of fruit, or a person’s face.
So, if a welding robot can become a world-class art forger, anyone reading this should be inspired to do better in their own endeavors. Or perhaps to become an apprentice to a welding robot. Check out a few more of e-David’s works below, followed by some classic Bob Ross, the least robotic guy in public television history.