Turning a Swarm of Individual Robots Into the "Bristles" of a Digital Paintbrush

Rather than controlling each robot individually, the swarm is told to paint particular parts of the canvas — and will even mix colors.

Gareth Halfacree
4 days agoRobotics / Art
The robot swarm acts in concert to paint the canvas according to instructions from a human artist. (📷: Santos et al)

Roboticists at the Georgia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania have developed a means of turning a swarm of robots into an electronic paintbrush, leaving color trails behind them as they pass over a canvas.

"The intersection between robotics and art has become an active area of study where artists and researchers combine creativity and systematic thinking to push the boundaries of different art forms," says Dr. María Santos of the team's work. "However, the artistic possibilities of multi-robot systems are yet to be explored in depth."

"The multi-robot team can be thought of as an 'active' brush for the human artist to paint with, where the individual robots (the bristles) move over the canvas according to the color specifications provided by the human."

The team's study took the concept of a multi-robot swarm, in which each robot is aware of the others and control instructions are given not to any individual robot bu the swarm as a whole, and turned it into a system for art. A human artist marks particular areas of the canvas to be painted, and the robots carry out the painting — even to the point of mixing their colors together, just as a human artist might mix paints.

The prototype work didn't use paint, however, but rather simulated the system with light: A projector and tracking system monitored each robot and simulated its "paint" trail, as a cleaner way to prove the concept. In the future, though, the team has indicated it plans to produce robots which can apply actual paint to the canvas.

The initial output of the painting robots is undeniably simplistic, but the team shows confidence that it could work to improve the fidelity in the future. The paper has been published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI under open-access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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