Disney Robot Draws Giant Sketches on the Beach

Beachbot turns an ordinary beach into an artist's canvas

2 min read
Disney Robot Draws Giant Sketches on the Beach
Photo: Disney Research Zurich/ETH Zurich

We’ve seen robots drawing and painting before. But Beachbot does art on a whole different scale. Developed by a team from Disney Research Zurich and ETH Zurich, the robot can autonomously create giant sand drawings by dragging a rake-like tool on a beach.

Paul Beardsley, a principal research scientist at Disney Research Zurich, says he wanted to build an artist robot that could keep creating new artwork. Instead of using paint, he wanted to explore a less permanent medium. “Sand drawing is perfect because it’s an infinitely reuseable canvas,” he says.

Beachbot carries a computer with Wi-Fi, a inertial measurement unit (IMU), and a laser scanner. It uses the laser, mounted on its back, to detect four poles placed on the beach. The poles delimit the boundaries of a “canvas,” and the robot uses the laser data and the IMU to locate itself and navigate with millimiter accuracy within that area.

Building a machine that could drive and draw on the sand presented some challenges. Beardsley and his colleagues tested different drawing tools before settling on the rake mechanism, which has individually controlled prongs that can be lowered or raised to create thick or thin lines on the sand. They also experimented with different wheels, looking for a design that wouldn’t leave pronounced tracks on the sand. But the hardest part of the project was developing algorithms to transform a picture into a trajectory that the three-wheeled robot could drive.

“Robot sand art is basically a path planning problem in robotics,” Beardsley explains. Based on the lines of a drawing, the robot computes a trajectory that most closely approximates them. For big art pieces, the trajectory still has to be adjusted manually. But the group hopes to completely automate the process, so that you can give any picture to the robot and it will generate a line drawing and compute the corresponding path.

Beachbot currently works on 10-meter-by-10-meter-canvases. “But in principle we can scale up to kilometer long drawings that extend all along a beach,” Beardsley says. “The dream is to create huge amazing drawings like the Nazca Lines.”

[ Beachbot ] via [ New Scientist ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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