Sketchbot (USA), 2012
The Sketchbot is an assemblage of a camera, a robot arm, a sand filled terrarium and software. It is a useful addition to the museum’s collection, complementing the holdings of both the Digital and the Drawings, Print and Graphic Design departments. The use of automata to “draw” and their use in portraiture is not new. The scale of machine reproduction with a drawing machine, however, is—over 10 million portraits were drawn by eight Sketchbots drawing continuously, 24 hours a day, over a 12-month period in the Science Museum in London, England.
The Sketchbot was originally commissioned by the Science Museum in London for the Chrome Web Lab exhibition in 2012, funded by Google, which explored how the web "worked" and what it had become capable of achieving. The original concept and industrial design were developed by Tellart, a Rhode Island-based design company specializing in interaction design and the intersection of physical objects and digital design.
The Sketchbot demonstrates how image-analysis software can transform the contours of a captured image into a recognizable line drawing, and then into a series of commands that enable a robot to reproduce the lines. The robot executes each drawing in sand and records a photo of the finalized drawing as well as a video of the drawing process. The portrait is erased and a new one started, leaving a digital image as the only artifact. Tellart chose sand as the medium for reproduction in response to the environmental impact of paper consumption.
The software that runs the Sketchbot is made up of three parts: a web-based user interface to accept and take images, a server that queues each image and drawing, and a controller that operates the robot arm to create the drawing. The separation of these parts allows the Sketchbot to be reimagined to work with devices other than a robot arm. The source code for the Sketchbot software includes instructions for building a replica with Lego® Mindstorms®, demonstrating the increasingly blurry lines between source code for software and similar "source code" for hardware.
The acquisition includes design drawings and pitch video as well as source code and manufacturing blueprints. The source code for the Sketchbot, including instructions for building your own version with Lego®, is freely available online from the museum’s website.
It is credited
Gift of Google Inc..
Its dimensions are
H x W x D: 137.2 × 137.2 × 137.2 cm (54 × 54 × 54 in.)
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Tools: Extending Our Reach.