Robot artist sketches portraits

Posted by Kate Taylor

Even the most dedicated techie can have an artistic streak - and that includes robots. And at CeBIT in Hanover next month, delegates are being offered the chance to have their portrait drawn by an industrial robot.

The Fraunhofer robot first takes a good look at its model via its camera, then uses a pencil to knock out a sketch in about ten minutes. Edge-processing software seeks out the contrasts in the image and translates these into movements of the robot’s arm.

The main difficulty, says the team, was to adjust the algorithm for image processing so that the robot would overlook tiny wrinkles but still render the eyes - and deliver something that looked like a human-drawn portrait.

"We attach great importance to the artistic look of the drawings that results, but on the other hand, we have also equipped the robot with an automatic system that enables it to carry out all of the steps itself," says Martina Richter, a scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB.

"With this installation, we have created an interface between art, science and technology."

For the robot, though, art is more of a hobby. It's normally used by IOSB researchers to analyze the optical reflection properties of various materials.

The robot’s arm circles a sample such as a a reflector of the kind mounted on children’s school bags, measuring how the object reflects light.

This helps design reflectors so that they return light in the most bundled way possible to the direction from which it comes – to a car driver, for instance. Then the reflector emits a bright flash that draws the driver’s attention to the child.