If science fiction has taught us anything, it’s that as a species, we’re eventually going to need to make better use of the planet’s Z-axis. Once we’ve tattooed ourselves across every inch of the planet’s skin, there are futuristic Blade Runner skyscrapers to be built, with Metropolis-like bridges extending between them, allowing pedestrian foot traffic in the clouds while flying cars weave above and below.
The Vertwalker is a wall-crawling robot by Sonice Development that aims to be the cybernetic spray can to the guerilla artist of tomorrow. Created by Berlin-based designers Julian Adanauer and Christoper Haas with the idea that the city of tomorrow will be as vertical as it is horizontal, the Vertwalker conquers the Z-axis in order to make generative street art.
The main technology that drives the Vertwalker is a clever sealing lip on the underside of the Roomba-shaped robot that can hold a vacuum but doesn’t create a lot of friction when moved. It was created independently of the Vertwalker by Achim Meyer, a friend and collaborator of the robot’s creators, but the design duo over at Sonice immediately saw the possibilities: The system could be used to give a lightweight robot Spider-Man-like wall crawling powers.
“The Vertwalker works autonomously with a fixed set of rules that make use of the internal sensors and keep it within a specified area on the wall,” Adanauer tells Co. Design. “A pattern then emerges from these rules. It can be interesting to see the unexpected art that comes when the robot’s “perfect” digital rules come face to face with an “imperfect” material world.”
Right now, the Vertwalker only creates generative line drawings, scrawling patterns on vertical surfaces as it trails a marker behind it, the happy artistic accident of its gravity-defying meanderings. But the Vertwalker doesn’t have to be limited to random spirographs. According to Adanauer, they have toyed with the idea of programming the Vertwalker to crawl up Berlin’s massive Alexanderplatz television tower, scrawling the company’s own guerilla tag, “NICE,” in two 200-meter-tall letters.
Although such an automated, disruptive piece of street art is tantalizing to think about, Adanauer says it’s not the ultimate goal of the design. “What we’re really interested in is having multiple Vertwalkers performing choreographies on walls,” says Adanauer. “We want it to be like a dance of drones.” To make this happen, Sonice is currently working on putting a crowdfunding effort together to produce 50 Vertwalkers, which would then be unleashed on a massive vertical surface in an enormous choreography of wall-crawling robotic Banksys. Sounds like quite a sight to behold.
If the Vertwalker proves anything, it’s that the skyline of tomorrow isn’t necessarily out of touch. The Z-axis might extend beyond the reach of our arms, but thanks to robots, the city of the future can still be tagged, no matter how far into the clouds it stretches.
The Vertwalker is currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London.