Robots are already starting to make a mark on the adult art world with automated machines like the eDavid, which creates stunning painting in a variety of styles. But what about works at the other end of the artistic spectrum, like children's watercolors? Thanks to an invention from a 12 year-old, even young children can soon use robotics to make their own artwork. The WaterColorBot paints colorful pictures on paper based on existing graphics or follows along with users as they draw on a computer.
Sylvia Todd, a young girl who hosts her own DIY web series, came up with the initial design for the WaterColorBot before enlisting the help of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories (EMSL), who previously manufactured a machine that colors eggs. After finalizing a working prototype, EMSL adapted the model into a kit that can be easily assembled using just a Phillips-head screwdriver and a pair of scissors.
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Most of the device is made from carved plywood and works much like other drawing machines that are on the market, except for the dishes of water that clean the brush between colors. A pair of motors connected to cables handle the positioning of the brush along the X-Y axis, while a carriage with a servo moves it up and down as needed.
Everything is controlled by an EiBotBoard 2.0 USB motor controller, which connects to a computer and follows some custom software. The developers intend for the bot to last for several years of use, but they will offer replacement parts just in case.
Best of all, the machine doesn't require any pricey or hard-to-find materials to paint, just a set of standard watercolors, a small paintbrush, and a sheet of paper, like you'd find in most craft or office supply stores. The center carriage can accommodate any brush up to 0.325 in (8.3 mm) in diameter, and the printable area is designed for a 9 x 12 in (22.9 x 30.5 cm) sheet of watercolor paper or smaller.
With the included software, users can make their own colorful drawing on a computer, or upload an existing vector graphic, and watch the machine automatically paint it. The bot is programmed to dip the brush in water, swirl it in a watercolor compartment to coat it in paint, and clean it in a separate water dish. It can even determine if it needs to refill the brush with more paint.
There's also a mode that allows people to draw on the computer and have the machine follow along in real-time, though they'll have to click on a water dish themselves when they want to switch colors. Since the painting process is automated, the bot can fill in large areas on its own or recreate the exact same drawing multiple times, much like a home printer.
Since its creation, the WaterColorBot's young inventor has demonstrated the device to small children at several exhibitions and has even shown it to the President of the United States, but now EMSL wants to bring the device to the public. Both Sylvia and ESML hope their invention will serve as a helpful educational tool to get kids interested in both art and robotics. They also plan to release the bot's API so other programmers can develop new software for it.
ESML plans to manufacture the WaterColorBot kits at their own facility and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to begin mass production. Anyone who contributes at least US$295 will receive everything needed to get started, including the self-assembly kit, a set of Crayola water colors, a brush and some paper. The kits are expected to ship in December.
In the meantime, check out the video below to see how a creative 12 year-old girl helped bring a painting robot to life.