Can robots be artistic? You're darn right they can! With a (significant) nudge from their flesh-and-blood creative counterparts, these machines produce work that's technically precise with room for personality. Plus, they're totally mesmerizing to watch.
None of these really have any anthropomorphic, animatronic appeal—at first glance, they don't look like they've got much soul—but a funny thing happens once they start expressing themselves: Indifference turns into affection. It's tough not to feel something for this motley crew.
We've rounded up seven of our favorites, but let us know who—or what—we missed.
For all you frothy coffee drinkers out there: Does it make a difference in your enjoyment if there's something special depicted in the foam? I rarely order speciality drinks but when I do, I always get a kick out of something with a heart or a swirl, so… yeah, I would probably be delighted if this thing handed me a cappuccino with a (somewhat poor) portrait of me on top. Sue me.
Viktor, Rita, and Hektor
Swiss designer Jürg Lehni is like the bot whisperer when it comes to coaxing ingenious results out of his wonderful inanimate contraptions.
Wielding a piece of chalk like a freaking pro, Viktor leaves ephemeral lines, dots, pictures, and words along the vertical expanse of a wall in measured strokes; seriously, this little guy may only be made up of four motors and belts but he can draw pretty much anything. I actually got to see Viktor do his thing a few months ago at All Possible Futures, a (fantastic) graphic design exhibition in San Francisco.
This gal never stops—she draws, and erases, and draws, and erases, swapping out between four sizes of whiteboard marker and two sponges. Her productivity is through the roof, but at the end of the day her output is wiped away, making the act of composition more important than the finished product.
Hektor is controlled by a software written by Lehni called Scriptographer; algorithms calculate the path he'll take and coordinate the movement of the two motors and spray-can nozzle. He was "conveived as a post-industrial tool that is allowed to be unprecise and and convey these abstract mathematical geometries in a different, sometimes almost human way — a tool with an inherently particular and distinctive aesthetic."
I feel like Hektor and Robo Faber could be friends. We met this lil' lovestruck dude last year, and his adorable illustrations of machine-y naughty bits are the cutest things. Like, I would actually hang one on my wall. Yes, he looks like a Roomba and sure, it's funny he's got nothing to express but suggestive attempts at peens and poons and bits of hair, but media artist Matthias Dörfelt knows how to expertly instill mechanical parts with genuine heart, and goddamnit Robo Faber is the best.
This prototype was created for London's Science Museum a few years back, and it's pretty wild. Using Chrome's getUserMedia API, anyone in the world could allow Sketchbot to access their webcam and take a snap of their face, which was converted into a simple sketch, which was then drawn into a patch of sand on-site. Lots of steps on there. Maybe this is what the FBI's been doing with all those surreptitiously activated computer cameras.
Dutch designer Gijs van Bon hacked a CNC milling machine to create Skryf, a literary apparatus that spells out words in fine grains on the ground. Part of the appeal is that letters, or an entire line, may blow away or be trampled on before the next begins, making interpretation a kind of intriguing, interactive performance art piece that involves passerby—and whoever bothers to pay attention to where they're stepping.