Artistic intelligence: meet Sydney’s painting robot

February 14, 2019
The robot paints in a traditional Chinese style
A mechanical engineering student at the University of Sydney has programmed a robot to paint in the traditional Chinese painting style known as guóhuà.
Wenzheng Zhang has combined his love of art and robotics to develop a robot that paints.
Wenzheng Zhang has combined his love of art and robotics to develop a robot that paints.

A University of Sydney mechanical engineering student with a passion for fine art and robotics has programmed a robot that can produce a traditional Chinese ink painting, a style known as guóhuà.

Armed with two paintbrushes, a pot of ink and art paper, the robot is programmed to paint small chickens – the traditional elementary subject that apprentice artists must master before moving on to more complex images.

Wenzheng Zhang has been drawing and painting with ink since childhood, but it wasn’t until his university days when he was experimenting with a robotic arm during a mechanical engineering class that the idea to combine his two passions struck.

“What I have achieved is the frame work of a painting process which uses a program that allows the arm to paint in a similar way to a human. Instead of using image processing to determine the image’s trajectory, a mathematical and geometrical relation is used,” Wenzheng explained.

“The purpose is to try to replicate the human thought process, such as getting the robot to focus more on how the painting starts rather than how it finishes. The robot must contemplate the canvas and effectively ‘work out’ the drawing on its own.”

“I’ve created a flexible program which can continue to be developed with the end goal being a program that can create a piece of art instead of simply copying existing works.”

To program the UR5 Universal Robotics arm, Wenzheng used an application called Python, an easily-integrated, open-source language used across a variety of applications.

“The code must be as flexible as possible for two major reasons,” explained Wenzheng. “One is that there are too many parameters to be controlled, and some of these are not controlled for this project. Another reason is that these parameters should be adjusted by the computer to achieve a certain sense of creativity.”