In ancient Greek mythology, the character of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra, is punished for his deceitfulness by being condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain for all eternity.
Jump forward a couple of millennia and creator Bruce Shapiro has used that story as his inspiration for one of the coolest Kickstarter projects we’ve ever seen: a table with an ever-changing automated tabletop pattern created from sand.
“Sisyphus is a kinetic sculpture in which a two-motor robot moves a magnet to pull a steel ball through a field of sand,” Shapiro told Digital Trends. “It can also be thought of as an instrument upon which paths are played. Like musical instruments, it is the combination of both the instrument and composition played upon it which produces the art.”
There are three sizes of table available, with prices starting at $795, and boasting a range of stunning wood veneer finishes. It’s created by himself and a collective of fellow creators, called Nordeast Makers.
If it all seems incredibly well thought-out, that’s because Shapiro’s had plenty of time and practice to create it. He first starting to build the project’s predecessors back in the early 1990s, with the idea of using algorithms to cut wood and metal to create static sculptures.
Somewhere along the journey, the concept developed.
“The idea of using one of these machines not just as a fabrication tool but as a sculpture itself was sparked by a half-joke, half-challenge posed by pen-plotter artist Jean-Pierre Hebert: Could I think of a way to make a robot that could rake a Zen garden?” Shapiro said. “Over the following years, I built many versions of Sisyphus, learning and iterating, with the goal of large-scale museum installations.”
He achieved this goal in 2003 with a 3-meter diameter Sisyphus at an art and science museum in Switzerland, which continues to run to this day. More recent installations include similarly sized versions in both Australia and Germany. He couldn’t shake the idea of putting the technology into people’s homes, however.
“About three years ago I began to concentrate on the idea of producing smaller, more affordable versions that people could live with in their homes,” he told us. “Our current Kickstarter campaign represents the culmination of many thousands of hours of prototype iteration and testing.”
At present, the campaign has blown past its humble $50,000 goal, to raise $775,848. If you want to pledge, click the link at the top of this page to get involved.
“I have witnessed the looks on people’s faces watching Sisyphus for almost 20 years, in widely different venues, in many countries,” Shapiro concluded. “Regardless of age, culture, or type of setting, the response is nearly universal: Somewhere between enchantment and wonder is how I would describe it. So I’m not surprised that we were able to meet our goal. That being said, the size and speed of the response has blown us away!”