NTU HIGHLIGHTS August 2016  

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Student’s Robot Artist Wields Brush to Win Art Grand Prize

The future is bright for the intelligent robotics industry and NTU’s International Center of Excellence in Intelligent Robotics and Automation Research (NTU-iCeiRA) stands at the forefront of all Taiwanese universities in both the scale of its robotics research as well as its success in using technology transfers to produce practical applications.

While most of the center’s research is focused on industrial, medical, and service robots, one student working under the guidance of iCeiRA Director Ren C. Luo has used visual feedback and artificial intelligence to adapt and program a robot that can step into the realm of artistic creation. Moreover, Ming-Jyun Hong’s robot artist not only wields a brush to reproduce images like a human painter, it does a pretty good job, as it recently won Grand Prize in the First International Robot Art Contest.

After scanning an image, the robot automatically calculates the colors it will need and mixes the colors from the basic colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, white, and black. Then, it uses the painting technique of underpainting to lay down a layer of paint that serves as the background color for the image.

As the robot paints, a camera on its wrist monitors the artwork and continuously compares it with the original in order to make corrections and minimize discrepancies. Among the reasons cited for awarding Hong’s robot artist the Grand Prize were its automatic color-mixing stage and its ability to paint in the manner of a human artist.

Hong gained his inspiration to combine his own talent for painting with his robotics research during a conversation with friends and spent nearly a year sharpening his algorithms in order to adapt and program the robot for the competition.

Bearing such titles as "The Beauty of Taiwan," "King of Beasts," "Albert Einstein," and "Still Life," the robot’s paintings might not be completely accurate reproductions, but they are thought-provoking and do expand the boundaries of the imagination.

Hong says he has no plans to create a commercial application based on the robot artist due to the lack of research on the required technology as well as the limited attention it would draw as an entertainment product. Still, he concedes that there is commercial potential for the robot because its integration of technology and art provides it with a draw as an object of curiosity. Hong adds that real success for the robot artist would come if it could achieve a higher level of artistry and greater adaptability and create paintings that were indistinguishable from human paintings.