WTF? Robots Sketch Your Portrait on the Way to the Bathroom (video)

Cameras, robots, bathrooms ...sounds sketchy.

Look out, a robot may be spying on you on your way into the restroom. Artists and programmers in the UK have decided to improve upon the male and female symbols outside many toilet facilities. They’ve developed a set of robotic arms that take pictures of people entering into a bathroom and then use that image to create a unique drawing to place outside the door. It then wipes away this art to make room for the next person’s caricature. The device is entitled “Ladies&Gents” and can be seen outside the lavatories at the Unleashed Devices exhibit at Watermans arts centre in West London. The installation lasts through the 22nd of October. Each original sketch is uploaded to an automated blog, and there are now hundreds to peruse. You can watch the Ladies&Gents bot perform a drawing in the video clip below. Of the many ways you could showcase robot artistic talent, this has got to be one of the weirdest.

Ladies&Gents does more than prove that robots have little sense of decorum. Creators Patrick Tresset and Nanda Khaorapapong have designed it to be a robotically enabled exploration of “gender, morphology and symbolisation.” It may be a silly concept, but it’s serious art. Art generated by a robot.

Tresset is also the creator of the Aikon II, which creates unique sketches of people’s faces. I corresponded with Tresset via email and learned that Ladies&Gents is, in fact, reusing the Aikon robot control scheme. Tresset and Khaorapapong have approached the art in a new way, as Ladies&Gents must focus on limbs and silhouettes rather than faces. A combination of randomness (which Tresset dislikes) as well as the person’s shape influences each sketch. So, not as artificially creative as Aikon II, but still interesting.

Even rudimentary drawing robots like these are examples of artificial creativity. As creative problem solving is one of the areas in which human minds exceed the limits of computers, it’s interesting to watch artists strive to teach these skills to machines. When robots can finally match our artistry we will have created intelligences with a great portion of what we consider to be human. In the pursuit of such lofty goals it’s forgivable that the bot waits outside bathrooms and draws those who enter.

Sure, when a robot does it, it’s a triumph of technology, but when I do it…

Patrick Tressert and Nanda Khaorapapong wish to credit Goldsmith’s College Department of Computing, where Patrick is a researcher and Nanda is an alumnus.
[image and video credit: Ladies and Gent Blog (Nanda Khaorapapong and Patrick Tresset)]
[source: Ladies and Gent Blog]

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