BEIRUT: Many of us have had that moment – walking down the street, catching the glimpse of an artist sketching a scene in front of him. Wanting to see things through his eyes, we stop to watch the process, eager to understand what makes him tick yet careful as we approach from behind so as not to break his concentration. “I tried to recreate this fascination,” says Guillaume Crédoz, a Beirut-based architect from Paris who, along with his Lebanese wife Souraya Haddad-Crédoz, runs a 3-D printing operation in Beirut’s Geitawi district.
At last month’s Design Days Dubai, the annual international fair held in the Emirati metropolis, Crédoz, along with Nareg Karaolaghnian, a fluid mechanics engineer and professor at the American University of Beirut, unveiled their new invention: a robot that draws sketches based on images “seen” and then processed by a computer. The project, which took two months to complete from start to finish, tapped into Arduino, an electronics platform for artists, for the programming, while the body was created with Crédoz’s 3-D printer.
The concept is as frightening as it is impressive. Could a robot replace the creativity of a human artist? For now, no, but with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, professional sketch artists could be facing competition in the coming years.
The robot, which the men named the Obsessive Drafter for its rapid and repetitive strokes, is an unassuming apparatus that looks more like an elevated camera on wheels than a machine capable of processing detailed three-dimensional images and sketching their likeness.
Though it doesn’t resemble a human in shape, the machine nonetheless has certain attributes that most artists possess: three joints, at the base, the middle and then at the end, or the wrist, which turns, bends and rotates the pencil as it’s sketching.
“You still feel there’s someone. The computer connects the picture and draws you,” says Crédoz, who had the Obsessive Drafter sketch his face for a demonstration in Dubai.
As much as the work is a testament to the advancement of both 3-D printing and computer programming, Crédoz says that it is not an invention he intends to market but merely a piece of art he wanted to share with the public. In the coming months, he and Karaolaghnian will continue to develop the Obsessive Drafter to give it more precise sketching capabilities.
He also wanted to prove that such a complex machine could be made at a low price, one of the advantages of 3-D printing, which now allows once unthinkable feats such as children designing their own toys as well as the production of some products at a low cost.
“Then, years ago, this could have only been done by a big company with a good-sized research budget. Now it’s completely available,” Crédoz says. “Before the 3-D printer, artists would make molds of everything. Now the little guys without money can sell [their products] on the first day. This will soon be a lot more common.”