We have machines that can recognize faces and machines that can draw. Now, thanks to scientist/engineer/artist Patrick Tresset, we have robots that do both — look at your face and then draw a portrait while you wait. One catch, though: Tresset has programmed them to be kind of clumsy.
Skip ahead to 1:30, this takes a while to get going.
Why would a grant-funded university researcher be interested in designing robots that aren’t preternaturally precise? Aren’t we humans plenty clumsy already? According to Tresset, that’s the whole point. “I try to make robotic installations that touch people,” he tells Co.Design. “I believe that a robot that slightly fails is more interesting, more touching — it encourages empathy in the viewer.”
Tresset’s robot, named Paul, is drawing portraits as part of an exhibition at Tenderpixel gallery in London, which runs until July 9. In order to make Paul’s art more adorably sloppy, Tresset used low-cost servomotors instead of the industrial-grade kind that let robot arms perfectly execute thousands of welds a day in an auto plant. It’s almost like Paul is practicing, Tresset tells Co.Design: “The exhibition is about the obsessive nature of drawing and draftsmen. In a certain way the imprecision adds to the drawing style.” He adds that while this version of the robot doesn’t have any way of incorporating visual feedback to self-monitor or improve its drawings, future iterations will. Maybe this is how the robot uprising starts: not with Skynet, but with a humble robot arm holding a pencil, frustratedly trying to better itself.