The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

SADbot: A DIY Drawing Machine That Loves Light

SADbot is an interactive machine that starts drawing when there's sunlight -- and sleeps when there's not

2 min read
SADbot: A DIY Drawing Machine That Loves Light

SADbot eyebeam

Outside of New York City’s Eyebeam studio, an artist's hub dedicated to the convergence of art and technology, two women pause to see a pen doodling across a canvas behind a window. When they touch little circles on the glass, the pen changes direction.

“What’s this?” they ask. Then they read the description. This is a SADbot.

SADbot, or Seasonally Affected Drawing Robot, is a solar-powered, interactive drawing machine created by Eyebeam artists Dustyn Roberts and Ben Leduc-Mills. The contraption was on display this month at Eyebeam's Window Gallery in Chelsea.

SADbot eyebeam

"People are only happy when it's sunny," says Roberts. "Just like our robot."

When the sky is dark, SADbot stops doodling and "goes to sleep." But when the sun is out, SADbot lets people interact with it and doodles across a large canvas.

SADbot uses an Arduino microcontroller, four photocell sensors, a battery, and two stepper motors to control two cables attached to a pen. The electronics gets power from solar panels on the building's roof. But light not only powers the installation -- it also affects SADbot's behavior.

The interactive part occurs when a person stands in front of SADbot and covers up one of its photocell sensors, which the SADbot registers and then changes its drawing direction. By covering the sensors in a determined sequence, a person could do his or her own drawings.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/v/mDNl4pxh_dk&hl=en_US&fs=1& expand=1]

But after checking the gallery's window where SADbot was to be installed, Roberts and Leduc-Mills noticed a problem. The window doesn't get much sunlight -- which would make SADbot, well, sad.

No problem. The artists built a rooftop mirror array to direct sunlight to a fixed mirror hanging off the ledge, which reflects light down to the gallery window.

If none of the photocells are covered, SADbot draws according to the programmed algorithm -- in the current case, small movements in random directions.

"At the moment its aesthetic is very small, random movements, or doodles," says Leduc-Mills. Since the project has been up, they've been filling up one canvas with doodles per day, which tells them that SADbot has received a lot of interaction.

Leduc-Mills wanted to create an interactive project that people could influence from the sidewalk so he took his ideas to Roberts, a mechanical engineer, and SADbot was born.

They met at NYU's ITP program, where Roberts teaches a class called Mechanisms and Things That Move. She will include SADbot in her book in progress called Making Things Move.

To build SADbot, the duo raised over US $1,000 in funding on Kickstarter.com, an innovative project-funding site, which paid for all of the bot's components. Depending on the size of the donation, backers of the SADbot project received SADbot drawings, mini SADbot DIY kits, and fully built miniSADbots.

SADbot uses open source platforms like Arduino, Processing, and EasyDriver motor boards, so it's easy for you to build your own SADbot!

Images and video: SADbot project, Dustynrobots/Flickr, Courtneybeam/Flickr.

More images:

SADbot eyebeam

SADbot eyebeam

SADbot eyebeam

SADbot eyebeam

The Conversation (0)

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
Horizontal
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
DarkGray

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?

Keep Reading ↓Show less