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Robot Art Contest Seeks Machines That Can Paint Like the Masters

A new robotic challenge in the vein of DARPA's prize competitions invites people to build a robot that can paint with a brush.

Carnegie Mellon's entry. Photo: Carnegie Mellon

It's not just humans (and those elephants in Thailand) who can paint these days, semi and autonomous robots have been churning out artworks for a number of years, so it's only fair that they get their own competition. Step into the fray the inaugural Robot Art Contest which is following in the tradition of contests like DARPA's Grand Challenge (both in terms of ambition and cash prizes), but focusing entirely on robots that can paint.


The organizer is Andrew Conru, internet entrepreneur and founder of Friend Finder Networks, who is pledging half a million dollars to the competition over the next five years. The idea is contestants need to "create a robot that paints with a brush like a classical master," according to the press release, and the machine can be entered into either or both of two categories depending on its functionality: 'telerobotic' and 'fully automated,' with $100,000 worth of prizes over 16 cash rewards up for grabs. The general public will be judging the results. "The motivation for the Robot Art contest came from the realization that tangible, physical art is one of the key signs of humanity," Conru tells The Creators Project. "People instantly know if an artwork gives them an emotional response."

The two categories represent the opposing views held by those working in the fields of robotic creativity. Telerobotic machines are seen as collaborating with humans for the resultant artwork, while for the 'fully automated' camp the idea is to completely remove human input and have the robot create the artwork autonomously.

eDavid. Photo: Universität Konstanz

These two viewpoints can be summed up by two teams—there are 14 so far—who are currently down to compete. Yeliz Karadayi, an interaction designer from Carnegie Mellon University, said this about telerobotics: "I certainly hope that this competition will start a dialogue in which people understand that robots are best utilized as collaborators with humans, instead of as replacements for humans.”


Another competitor, Oliver Deussen, co-creator of the eDavid painting machine, said, "We are interested to what extent artistic craftsmanship can be implemented when doing machine painting, is it also possible to let the robot find his own style, judge and improve his result autonomously? Fully automatic processes also have the beauty of sometimes getting the unexpected.”

Beyond Carnegie Mellon, other notable competitors—who, like Carnegie, are also alumni of the DARPA Grand Challenge—include Cornell, UC San Diego, and Purdue. There are also some notable painting robots, which many people may have heard of from blogs and articles written about them, like eDavid (above), Doug Marx’s Vangobot, and Pindar Van Arman’s cloudPainter.

cloudPainter: Photo: Pindar Van Arman

But anyone can enter, the robot just needs to be able to paint with a brush. "One of the first signs of human culture was our ability to express ourselves with images," explains Conru about the brush stipulation. "From ancient cave paintings to abstract art, physically generated images have been a universal way for humans to express and communicate."

The hope is that, like the self-driving car competition in DARPA's Grand Challenge, the Robot Art Contest will push scientists, hobbyists, and technologists to address and possibly overcome some of the difficult problems of AI in relation to creativity, along with addressing more general ones like dexterity and real world interaction.


"While much progress has been made in computer-generated art as well as robotics, we are still a long way off from matching or even surpassing the human artist," notes Conru. "The goal of this first year is to organize the efforts of teams around the world in a place that showcases their progress. Having a five-year horizon will give teams the ability to build on their efforts."

To enter you need to submit an artwork painted with a brush by a robot by 14 April on the Robot Art Contest website. If you want to register as a judge you can also do that on the website too.


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