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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An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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