• 12.23.10

Robot Creates the World’s Nerdiest Light Paintings

German artist Nils Völker programs an LED-equipped robot to visualize the decimal digits of pi. And yeah, it’s just as geeky as it sounds.

Robot Creates the World’s Nerdiest Light Paintings

German artist Nils Völker has managed to do what no high-school geometry teacher can: Make pi kinda? fascinating. His trick: a quirky little robot, which turns that old Euclidean headache into gorgeous, gallery-ready light paintings.


Völker calls the paintings (which are technically photographs) Variations on Pi, and to make ’em, he cobbled together an Arduino-controlled, LED-equipped robot — a sort of cross between a vacuum cleaner, a Dan Flavin sculpture, and R2-D2. The robot is programmed to visualize pi by flashing its lights and scooting around on the floor like it’s doing some kind of android Hustle, while a camera mounted overhead takes long-exposure photos. Check the video above.

Now here’s where things gets a bit complex (and totally nerdy): Of the 50 photographs Völker created, each visualizes a different range of pi’s decimal digits. Völker explains:

“There’s a program running on the microcontroller which reads the decimal digits of pi. The first digit defines where the robot should go. The next one defines an angle from which each rotation starts. The following three define the red/green/blue values of the LEDs — basically the color of the light when the rotation starts.”

Based on those instructions, the robot goes round and round for about 4 minutes ’til it completes a single “painting.” Rinse, repeat.


Which all sounds terribly complicated and, frankly, a little OCD. So what’s the point? Look at the photographs. They’re stunning, for chrissake — equal parts Robert Smithson and Dr. Who.

To see the complete set or to buy a print (for 200 Euros) go here. And for more Co. coverage of Völker’s fantastically hypnotic work, click here.

[Images courtesy of Nils Völker]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.