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Check Out this Robot that Draws Giant Sketches on the Beach!

BeachBotPeople tend to get a little nervous when robots get more and more advanced these days. We’ve already shown you stories about robots taking over burger flipping jobs and robots taking care of us when we’re older.

But some robots aren’t here to take over your job—some just want to leave the world looking a little more beautiful than it already is.

With that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to BeachBot, a small robot with a big vision for a sandy beachfront. Developed by a team from Disney Research Zurich and ETH Zurich, BeachBot can autonomously create giant sand drawings by dragging a rake-like tool on a beach. Check out this video of BeachBot in action!

Paul Beardsley, a principal research scientist at Disney Research Zurich, told IEEE Spectrum that he wanted to build an artist robot that could keep creating new artwork. “Sand drawing is perfect because it’s an infinitely reusable canvas,” he says. Every time the tide comes in, BeachBot is presented with an entirely new space to create new art again and again.

Of course, building a machine that could drive and draw on the sand presented some challenges for Beardsley and his team. They tested different drawing tools, different wheels that wouldn’t leave pronounced tracks in the sand, and different algorithms to transform a picture into a trajectory that the three-wheeled robot could drive. This last one proved to be the trickiest part of the whole project.

“Robot sand art is basically a path planning problem in robotics,” Beardsley explains. For the really big pieces of sand art, BeachBot still has to be manually adjusted through the process. But the group hopes to completely automate the process, so that you can give any picture to the robot and it will generate a line drawing and compute the corresponding path.

Right now, BeachBot works on 10×10 meter canvases, but the dream is to scale that up to an even bigger canvas. “The dream is to create huge amazing drawings like the Nazca Lines,” says Beardsley. And wouldn’t that be a dream come true to arrive at the beach and look down at a tiny robot making a scene from The Lion King in the sand?

It’s alright to have some reservations about robots taking over in the workforce. But you have to admit that robots are just too cool to ignore. And some robots aren’t looking to take over the world; some robots, like BeachBot, want to leave the world looking a little more beautiful than before.

photo credit:  IEEESpectrum.org

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