Like a robotic Picasso, ‘broken’ 3D printer turns photos into crazy cubist artwork

The question of whether a machine can be creative is a weirdly contentious one. On the surface, it’s a technological problem, but it also delves into some pretty interesting philosophical conundrums — like whether we prize human creativity too highly, how important intentionality is on the part of a creator, and whether there are more important things we could be doing on a weekday than stroking our goatees in hipster coffee houses.

Nonetheless, it’s an issue that forms the backbone of an intriguing new Kickstarter project, with the name Robot Picasso. Created by Australian maker James Novak, Robot Picasso is a custom 3D printer and set of smart generative algorithms able to look at real photographs and turn them into unique abstract drawings.

“On paper, it’s quite simple,” Novak told Digital Trends. “Email me a photo, I’ll print it out and sit it in front of Robot Picasso. It is then automatically interpreted in cubist style, and drawn on paper using a modified 3D printer.”

The printer, Novak said, is the Solidoodle Press, the same printer which sent manufacturer Solidoodle into bankruptcy. “It was terrible,” Novak said. “But as a 2D plotter, it has found a new life. As the human in this team my only role is to load paper, prop photos, and manage Kickstarter. The complete process of interpreting and drawing is all automated using algorithms and code.”

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Each image takes around 30-45 minutes to create, as Novak’s computer webcam first processes the photo it’s seeing with a maximum of 500 lines. It then saves the file and converts it into G-code so the 3D printer can understand it as instructions for printing. Finally, it “prints” it using Novak’s cleverly converted 3D printer extrusion nozzle, which he’s modified to let it hold pens for the drawing process.

Images are signed and numbered by Robot Picasso. Prices for a fully printed version are around $57 (converted from Australian dollars), although different price points are also available depending on what you want. Pictures will ship in May. You can find out more details at Novak’s Kickstarter page here.

“I hope this project appeals to people because it is fun,” he said. “Watching a machine analyze an image, then draw it line by line is mesmerizing, just like 3D printing. But I also hope it shows people how an old 3D printer can still be useful, or inspire people about how they could add extra functionality to their current printer.”

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