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Neko is a robotic arm built from hobby parts and a 3D printer. I'm priming him with color data, trying to make him creative.
Neko is a robotic arm built from hobby parts and a 3D printer. I'm priming him with color data, trying to make him creative.
40 backers pledged $3,356 to help bring this project to life.

About

Neko: a Color Field Oil Painter project video thumbnail
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$3,356

40

[Thank you to my brother, Will Greig, for the video soundtrack.]

Objective

Through this Kickstarter, I hope to give Neko a brain. The thing all Machine Learning algorithms need is lots and lots of data. I can go through text books and online museum archives on my own, but what I want are individual responses for individual colors. Once all the donations are pledged, Neko will begin at the first tier and work his way up. The higher the donation, the more intelligent Neko will be by the time he gets to it. I'll also work reverse-chronologically, so that earlier donors get the more informed paintings.

Progressively mixing cool colors through a random walk
Progressively mixing cool colors through a random walk

Background 

I see robots as natural painters. They are patient, immune to toxins, and steady-handed. A robot’s ability to process massive amounts of data allow for new insight into patterns of beauty and symbolism. I think the emergence of a non-human standard of taste would have a beneficial impact on the art world. I've been building painting robots since 2008. I take my work slowly and seriously, only considering one small aspect of painting at a time.

Early iteration of Neko
Early iteration of Neko

Neko, my second oil painter, began working in the Fall. He's had shows in San Francisco and New York already. In his first iteration, he painted gradients of whatever two site-specific colors I put on his palette. Right now he only knows the pattern of dipping and applying to create a gradient. He's more like an old-fashioned automaton than a robot. 

Me at Galerie Protege with Neko's paintings "Sheena" and "Lisa"
Me at Galerie Protege with Neko's paintings "Sheena" and "Lisa"

Bringing Neko to Life 

Neko needs a learning algorithm. He makes paintings for specific people, in a type of portraiture. Right now I’m doing all the data collection for him: interviewing the sitter, reading books on pigments and color symbolism, testing different pigment blends. I’m collecting all my findings in a comprehensive database. Soon, Neko will be able to consult this database and incorporate his own findings. 

Sample row of database
Sample row of database

I'd like Neko to use both supervised and unsupervised learning. I want him to teach me some novel color associations, so I'll work on a clustering algorithm to go through art history texts and look for frequently paired words and pigments. That's unsupervised learning. When Neko proposes a color for someone's portrait, I'll ask them to supervise his learning by honestly answering "yes" or "no" when he asks if they like it.

Neko model in Sketchup, with printable parts in green
Neko model in Sketchup, with printable parts in green

I built Neko out of parts from my old neighborhood store, Garber Hardware. To couple these parts to motors and sensors from Sparkfun, I design plastic couplers using a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. An Arduino Mega joins the electronic components to an old MacBook. The Arduino IDE sufficed for the first version but I’ll be using Python for the database queries in the next implementation.  I started a blog to track my progress and research: painterbot.blogspot.com

Testing out new sensors and materials
Testing out new sensors and materials

Where the Money Goes

  • Updated sensors and motors
  • Vision system
  • Canvas, brushes & paint
  • Painting & programming lessons
  • Research materials


Thank you for taking the time to read my proposal. I hope you enjoyed it, and I look forward to hearing from some of you. The more people I get participating in the project, the richer our data will be.

Risks and challenges

Programming is my biggest challenge! I'm working my way through tutorials now, learning how to get really specific about the tasks at hand. I can usually hack something together quickly, but like to take my time in really getting it right. The reward tiers build up as stepping stones of progress and I think they're realistic. There are experts in a number of relevant disciplines I can turn to for help as needed.

Neko's already at the working-but-not-yet-right stage, both in hardware and software, so at least we can continue making paintings at the current level of complexity. Now it's just a matter of populating the database and getting the Arduino (or possibly Beaglebone) to communicate with the data via Python. I've used AppEngine before and think it'd work well for the project, and remove some of the risks.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Your favorite color entered into Neko's database, with your choice of color name. You'll get an e-card color swatch.

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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    I'll ask you to write me a list of things you like. Neko will give you a narrowing set of choices; when you've found the perfect color, he'll add it to the database and email you a color swatch.

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    6 backers
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Same as $25 level but Neko and I will mail a printed color swatch. All donors at and above this level will also get an embroidered patch.

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    5 backers
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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Same as $50 level but the color swatch will be painted instead of printed.

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    8 backers
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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    I'll ask for a 30-60 second video about you and your likes. I'll ask that you film it in a room that could use a painting. Neko will paint a color field for you.

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    1 backer
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    I will paint your portrait using Neko's custom color field as a background.

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Funding period

- (30 days)