The new Picasso? Meet Ai-Da the robot artist

The rubberised head of Ai-Da, a humanoid robot capable of drawing people from life using her bionic eyes and hand, is given life-like features by Mr Mike Humphrey from robotics company Engineered Arts.
The rubberised head of Ai-Da, a humanoid robot capable of drawing people from life using her bionic eyes and hand, is given life-like features by Mr Mike Humphrey from robotics company Engineered Arts.PHOTO: REUTERS

FALMOUTH (England) • Can robots be creative?

British gallery owner Aidan Meller hopes to go some way towards answering that question with Ai-Da, who her makers say will be able to draw people from sight with a pencil in her bionic hand.

Mr Meller is overseeing the final stages of her construction by engineers at Cornwall-based Engineered Arts.

He calls Ai-Da - named after British mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace - the world's first "AI ultra-realistic robot artist" and his ambition is for her to perform like her human equivalents.

AI is short for artificial intelligence.

"She's going to actually be drawing and we're hoping to then build technology for her to paint," Mr Meller said after seeing Ai-Da's prosthetic head being carefully brought to life by specialists individually attaching hairs to form her eyebrows.

"But also as a performance artist, she'll be able to engage with audiences and actually get messages across; asking those questions about technology today."

Her skeletal robotic head may stand disembodied on a workbench, but her movements are very much alive.

Cameras in each of her eyeballs recognise human features - she will make eye contact and follow you around the room, opening and closing her mouth as you do. Get too close and she will back away, blinking, as if in shock.

Ai-Da's makers say she will have a "RoboThespian" body with expressive movements and she will talk and answer questions.

"There's AI running in the computer vision that allows the robot to track faces to recognise facial features and to mimic your expression," said Mr Marcus Hold, design and production engineer at Engineered Arts.

Ai-Da's makers are using "Mesmer" life-like robot technology for her head and, once finished, she will have a mixed-race appearance with long dark hair, silicone skin and 3D printed teeth and gums.

"(Mesmer) brings together the development of software mechanics and electronics to produce a life-like face with life-like gestures in a small human sized package," Mr Hold said.

Ai-Da will present her inaugural exhibition Unsecured Futures in May at the University of Oxford, and her sketches will go on display in London in November.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'The new Picasso? Meet Ai-Da the robot artist'. Print Edition | Subscribe