Calligraphy Robot Preserves An Ancient Skill

Calligraphy has been practiced for centuries in Japan, but fewer people practice it each generation. Is there some way to pass this delicate art on to future generations?


(Calligraphy robot video)

[B]rush-painting kanji calligraphy is a centuries-old art form. Keio University engineering professor Seiichiro Katsura has a way to help preserve it with his Motion Copy System robot.

The machine has a master-slave system that can reproduce brush strokes by a user with surprising similitude and subtlety. It uses a motion-capture system and old-school brush and ink to write beautifully.

The user first guides a handle around, while a separate brush dabs the paper with ink strokes. The bot remembers every nuance of the kanji, including the force applied to each stroke.

"We have been able to teach this robot to successfully copy the brush strokes of a master of calligraphy," Katsura told AFP when it was shown off at the recent Ceatec 2012 tech show in Tokyo.

But it could be used to preserve other manual techniques, such as hand movements used for surgery or mechanical work, according to Katsura.

I don't think it qualifies as a prediction, but the calligraphy robot might never have been made without the "prior art" of waldoes from Robert Heinlein's 1942 novel Waldo. In the novel, Waldo has a severe muscle disease that leaves him as weak as a toddler. He invents feedback-controlled devices that amplify his own meager muscularity called "waldoes". After putting on his special glove, he presses his forefinger against his thumb; then, the connected waldo glove puts its forefinger against its thumb - and presses 10 or 100 times harder.

In this excerpt, Waldo is teaching a machinist how to use waldoes to lathe metal castings:

‘Alexander Jenkins.’ ‘Very well, friend Alec - the gloves.’

Jenkins thrust his arms into the waldoes and waited. Waldo put his arms into the primary pair before him; all three pairs, including the secondary pair mounted before the machine, came to life. Jenkins bit his lip, as if he found unpleasant the sensation of having his fingers manipulated by the gauntlets he wore.

Waldo flexed and extended his fingers gently; the two pairs of waldoes in the screen followed in exact, simultaneous parallelism.

‘Feel it, my dear Alec,’ Waldo advised. ‘Gently, gently- the sensitive touch. Make your muscles work for you.’ He then started hand movements of definite pattern; the waldoes at the power tool reached up, switched on the power, and began gently, gracefully, to continue the machining of the casting. A mechanical hand reached down, adjusting a vernier, while the other increased the flow of oil cooling the cutting edge. ‘Rhythm, Alec, rhythm. No jerkiness, no unnecessary movement. Try to get in time with me.’

The casting took shape with deceptive rapidity, disclosed what it was - the bonnet piece for an ordinary three-way nurse. The chucks drew back from it; it dropped to the belt beneath, and another rough casting took its place. Waldo continued with unhurried skill, his finger motions within his waldoes exerting pressure which would need to be measured in fractions of ounces, but the two sets of waldoes, paralleled to him thousands of miles below, followed his motions accurately and with force appropriate to heavy work at hand.

Another casting landed on the belt - several more. Jenkins, although not called upon to do any work in his proper person, tired under the strain of attempting to anticipate and match Waldo’s motions. Sweat dripped down his forehead, ran off his nose, accumulated on his chin. Between castings he suddenly withdrew his arms from the paralleled primaries.
(Read more about Heinlein's waldo)

I'd also like to point out that I've turned comments back on and the contact form is also open.

Via CNet.

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