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Robot Painter 'Action Jackson' Mimics Jackson Pollock

A robot painter named "Action Jackson" mimics the painting techniques of Jackson Pollock, the American abstract impressionist painter. The robot painter was created by Washington University mechanical engineering student Topher McFarland.


(Jackson Pollock painting in 1950)

Action Jackson does not follow a "paint by the numbers" software program; the robot painter has what McFarland calls its "hacked together" quality. The robot's processor was snatched from an old university satellite project. An old peristaltic pump often used for blood pushes the paint around. And empty Bic pens serve as sheaths for control wires.


(Example artwork by Action Jackson)

Still, it does pretty good work. MacFarland is working on adding two more colors and more motion. The robot is controlled by a program called "404" - the number of the class in which Action Jackson was built.


(Robot painter 'Action Jackson' in action)

I can't think of a robot from science fiction that painted. However, the verse transcriber from J.G. Ballard's 1971 story Studio 5, The Stars was an automated artist of a sort:

I was pasting down one of Xero's satirical pastiches of Rubert Brooke and was six lines short. I handed Tony the master tape and he played it into the IBM, set the meter, rhyme scheme, verbal pairs, and then switched on, waited for the tape to chunter out of the delivery head, tore off six lines and passed them back to me. I didn't even need to read them.
(Read more about the verse transcriber)

Update 18-May-2021: In his 1943 story Robinc, Anthony Boucher called it the Verhaeren Factor:

The Verhaeren factor, if you've studied this stuff at all, is what makes robots capable of independent creative action. For instance, in the robots that turn out popular fiction - in a very small proportion, of course.

"Yes, that's the trouble. They never realized that a cook is an artist as well as a servant Well, we'll give him in his brain what he needs for creation and in his body the tools he needs to carry it out..."

End update.

From Robot makes drip paintings like Jackson Pollock's via primidi. See also the short video Washington University.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/26/2007)

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