Student Team’s Robotic Art Project Delights Judges, Places Fifth in International Contest

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A robotic arm applies paint to a canvas.

Robotic Artwork: For a senior-year capstone project, a student team programmed a robot that created artwork such as “Marvin,” showcasing the Looney Tunes character on NASA’s Spirit rover.

A team of senior mechanical engineering students has earned fifth-place honors and an $8,000 prize in the first international art competition that showcased how robots can replicate beautiful images by popular artists such as Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol.

A fully autonomous robot was programmed to paint strokes using up to eight colors to create artworks that were judged by working artists, art critics, and technologists. Online public voting accounted for 40 percent of each team’s score.

The Rose-Hulman team’s “Warholized Marilyn Monroe” image was a personal favorite of contest judge Anne Petty, an artist/instructor at Seattle’s Gage Academy of Art.

Other robot-created artwork featured Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Louis Wain’s “Psychedelic Cat,” “The Windy City” (showcasing Chicago’s skyline), “Marvin” (showcasing the Looney Tunes character on NASA’s Spirit rover), and “The Beauty of Autumn” (a park scene).

In announcing this year’s winners, the contest website stated “[Rose-Hulman’s team] took a fairly traditional, yet effective, approach to using a robot to paint and was popular among the online voters.”

The entry was completed as part of a senior-year capstone design project by Josh Crook of Martinsville, Indiana; Zach Dougherty of Barboursville, West Virginia; Luke Drong of Lockport, Illinois; and Gunnar Horve of Clinton, Illinois. Drong and Horve are earning academic minors in robotics. David Fisher, associate professor of mechanical engineering, was the team’s faculty mentor.

A team from the National Taiwan University’s Department of Electrical Engineering earned the contest’s $30,000 first prize. Other winning entries came from institutions in Italy, Germany, England, Canada, Egypt, and the United States.

Rose-Hulman ranked second among American prize-winning entries, which included artworks from George Washington University (second place), Carnegie Mellon University (ninth-place tie), Georgia Institute of Technology (honorable mention), the University of Minnesota (ninth-place tie), and Olin College of Engineering (honorable mention).

The competition was organized by successful internet entrepreneur Andrew Conru, a Rose-Hulman alumnus, to inspire the creative use of technology to create “something beautiful.” The contest is expected to continue for another four years. Fisher reports that students are already expressing interest in further expanding the project’s scope next year, enhanced by the $8,000 prize from this year’s effort.