Meet the Artistic Robot That Will Paint Your Portrait Using Oils and Brush Like an Old Master

Will robots eventually replace artists?

Photo: Pinder Van Arman/Kickstarter.

Photo: Pinder Van Arman/Kickstarter.

Can the artist’s hand be replaced by a robot’s touch? Tech artist Pindar Van Arman thinks so. He’s created bitPaintr, an artistic robot that paints portraits using a brush, canvas, and of course, artificial intelligence.

bitPaintr uses a “high-tech tracing machine” to transfer an image from a tablet to canvas, a process similar to the typical pencil sketching technique many painters use before beginning a work.

“Each portrait begins when a user takes a selfie with the tablet,” Van Arman told Vice. “The selfie then appears on the touchscreen where lines can be traced over it. Whenever a line is drawn, the robot dips its brush into paint and replicates the stroke on a canvas.”

Bystanders can offer the robot input on how it’s doing, or it can switch into autocomplete mode, comparing the photo showing the painting’s progress to plan its next brushstroke.

Photo: Pinder Van Arman/Kickstarter.

Photo: Pinder Van Arman/Kickstarter.

According to Van Arman, the paintings are the artistic output of the robot, while his contribution is the form, function, and design of the machines, as well as the algorithms that they run on.

This is his fifth major robotics design project, and he hopes to raise enough funds via Kickstarter to begin a website that allows users to commission a portrait on the spot, have a robot begin work on it immediately, and then mail it to the subject. He would eventually like to gather enough portraits to stage a traveling exhibition.

So far, Van Arman has raised $1,680 of his $4,800 goal with 14 days left to go.

Photo: Pinder Van Arman/Kickstarter.

Photo: Pinder Van Arman/Kickstarter.

Much like working with a 3D-printer, depending on the complexity of the portrait, it can take the robot anywhere from 5 minutes to 24 hours to complete a work. A 14” x 18” portrait of Albert Einstein took 12 hours. But considering many artists labor over a painting for weeks, months, and even years, this timeline isn’t so bad.

“Friends have joked with me that I invented a really slow, really bad printer, a Rube-Goldberg device of sorts,” Van Arman told Vice. “Instead of creating photorealistic replicas in seconds like a printer, my robots paint with a brush over the course of hours, make loads of mistakes, and splatter paint everywhere. It’s a mess, but a charming mess made by a robot trying to make art the way humans do.”

To learn more and see videos, check out Kickstarter.

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