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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 18, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 15
Student-Built Robots Prove to Be a Big Draw

M&Ms captured the People's Choice Award.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Phil Sneiderman

Can works of art be created by soulless machines?

Engineering students at Homewood put that question to the test recently during the campus's second ArtBot competition. The results, produced by an array of homemade robots, ranged from enchanting swirls to, well, messy blotches.

Nine teams from a class called Mechatronics, each consisting of two or three students, were assigned to build self-contained mobile robots that used at least two different sensors and actuators to move over a "canvas" to create a work of art. Once activated, the whirring contraptions rolled across pieces of white poster paper, depositing color in varying patterns.

Visitors to the Mattin Center event inspected the results and posted blue dots beside their favorite works. The People's Choice Award, given to the team with the most dots, went to a robot called M&M, built by Alican Demir and Amit Evron. The robot produced thin spiral patterns on paper.

M&M's builders, Alican Demir and Amit Evron.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

The Critics' Choice Award, chosen by three art experts, went to Twitchy, a robot devised by Andrea Pringle and Chris Smith. Twitchy produced a more abstract design.

Each student team also was graded by the course instructor, Allison Okamura, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. Okamura, along with Joan Freedman, director of the Digital Media Center at Johns Hopkins, organized a similar ArtBot showcase in 2004, inspired by events staged elsewhere that mixed robotics and art. One of their goals was to encourage engineering students, who spend a lot of time cracking tough numerical problems, to draw on their creative powers.

Art judging of the projects was be done by Freedman; Dave Bakker, an instructor in the Johns Hopkins Homewood Arts Workshops; and Joe Reinsel, a faculty member in the Visual Arts Department at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Allison Okamura, crouching right, and students in her Mechatronics course watch the maneuvers of Work In Progress, built by Jeff Dunn, Shah Hossein and Bobby Ng.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Chris Smith and Andrea Pringle with their robot, Twitchy, which won the Critics' Choice Award.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Can Dinsky, built by Nick Marchuk and Jonathan Lasko, strutted its stuff by moving across paper it had spray painted.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS


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