Calligraphy robot has a master's touch

This bot can draw Chinese characters with surprising dexterity, perfectly reproducing expert techniques. It could become a skill repository.

The Motion Copy System robot draws the eight-stroke character "gaku" (study or learning). Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Many people would probably say their handwriting has suffered the more they use computers to communicate. But imagine trying to exercise your rusty penmanship on letters that have not 1 or 2 strokes but 5, 10, 15, or more.

The Japanese often complain that sending e-mails and texts erodes their skills in writing the thousands of kanji, or Chinese characters, they learn in school. Some are maddeningly complex and, if rarely used, easy to forget.

But brush-painting kanji calligraphy is also 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. Check out the vid below.

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.

While the techniques of master calligraphers and painters could be stored and reproduced with the system, they have to manually "teach" it themselves by guiding the brush. So it wouldn't be able to reproduce a Picasso, for instance.

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

There are concerns that as Japan's population ages, fewer and fewer young people are learning important manual skills that have been handed down from long ago.

Katsura wants to be able to store these manual skills on computers and make them available on a network.

That'll be handy when robots are writing all our Christmas cards.


(Via DigInfo)

 

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