Robots do a whole lot of activities previously done only by humans. From car assembling to actual driving, farming to bartending, robots have now more than ever taken much of the work that people used to do on their shoulders. Most importantly, these machines are more efficient than us, cutting a large chunk of the time we can naturally take to accomplish a task.
Perhaps the latest application of robotic technology is in the art industry, particularly mural painting. A few companies pioneered by some leading mural artists have recently introduced wall-crawling robots that paint murals (large or small) on almost any surface. This is something that can transform cities, public spaces, communities, and homes in just a matter of days.
The name on everyone’s lips at the moment is Mikhel Joala, the inventor of the mural painting robot Albert and founder of the company Sprayprinter. Joala is a street artist originally from Estonia and he says Albert can paint murals up to 100 times faster than humans.
“It’s definitely going to change how to think about street art,” Joala said in an interview with sfgate.com.
“But I think that Albert can coexist with hand painting artists because a printed image is always going to be different than a painted one.”
How it works
The mural painting robot works much like a traditional printer, using small dots of color to create a variety of colors and details.
Robot Albert, for instance, comes in two parts. First is the printhead that carries about six cans of spray paint. The other component is the spooling mechanism with cords that attach to the printhead and which also guides it around the wall.
The spooling mechanism additionally features a built-in computer interface where images can be uploaded for printing. It means the robot does not come up with its art, but that’s something clever minds like Joala are working on for the future. As the robot drifts around a surface, it constantly sprays dots of paint onto it and eventually, an image appears.
Typically, robot muralists use an intelligent algorithm to calculate how the image will be scaled on the wall. The machine can spray 1 sq.m per minute, a super-fast application for a task that could take weeks or months if hand-painted by a mural artist.
What has been done so far?
This art technology is still in its early stages but there are a couple of works out there to show its capability. Sprayprinter, for instance, has created murals on the sides of buildings in Joala’s native Estonia as well as northern California.
In 2016, Sprayprinter painted a large mural of Albert Einstein onto the wall of a four-story office building in the company’s hometown, Tartu, Estonia. Armed with three cans of spray paint, it took the robot just five hours to complete the giant mural.
In July 2017, Joala’s prototype also painted a 30-meter high mural on an industrial chimney using five cans of spray paint, a job that took a mere 14 hours to finish. During the time, Joala said the robot can create images three times more than the size of the 30m mural. The beauty of his invention is its scalability, which he said will empower them to break the world record for the biggest mural in the world.
Last year, robot Albert painted a mural in SoMa in March, San Jose in May and two others in California on September 2018.
Another San Jose based startup Vibot was also involved in painting a two-story-high mural on the side of a building in the city’s downtown, using robot technology. Asked whether the technology is here to steal artists’ jobs, Vibot CFO Yeong-Sae said:
“We’re certainly not trying to take small platforms away from muralists, that’s for them to do. We take a much larger project, much more complex pictures that need to be done cost-effectively and in a much shorter period of time.”
In fact, Vibot’s have painted major skyscrapers across Korea, so when they say much larger projects, they mean it.
“They don’t have the ability to paint on these large walls, so they don’t get the exposure that these muralists might be able to get,” Kim added.
Mural painting robots are on a mission to transform plain, boring, gray city spaces into stunning points of human expression. Above all, they make light work of painting massive murals and that’s something to back up.