What happens when you mix art with robotics and make it open source? That’s the question that haunts Carter Stokum and Wayne Campbell, two artists with technical backgrounds who want to find the answer. Both passionate about the idea, they’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign to create a community to explore the question.

These two met as student and teacher when Carter was Wayne’s instructor for several classes at TechShop. As time went by, they became friends, and as tends to happen between friends, they discovered common interests. It turns out that robotics, which Carter knows well, when applied to construction, which Wayne knows well, made for interesting conversation.

A train of thought that started with robots doing automated 3D scans of buildings under construction would meander into robots painting parking lot lines. Many of the tasks they discussed had been done by robots in Japan for over a decade but had never found their way to the US. While they felt challenged to perhaps address this gap, before they could take action, they had an epiphany. If robots could mark up construction sites, then robots could certainly paint using the world as its canvas.

That insight set them free. What if a robot could draw giant portraits in public places? How cool would it be if a robot kept a giant calendar so Google Satellite images could be dated? What fun would come from the ability to paint giant mazes? But then it dawned on them that these were all too predictable, too rigid. There wasn’t enough artistic expression in the making of exact copies.

What they’d been thinking about so far was creating vector art, the kind of graphic defined by math which can scale perfectly to any size. It didn’t include variability, randomness, and bit-mapped elements which could be means of artistic expression. They wanted to expand the definition of what their art robot might do.

What if an artist mixed vector and raster graphics and incorporated randomness based on tweets received from a community of followers? How cool would it be to have a robot incorporate environmental factors such as light, heat, and humidity into its output? What if a robot’s movement could have randomness injected into its path, allowing its tread to periodically overwrite the art?

To their artistic way of thinking, this was getting pretty exciting. If the code they wrote was open, then anyone could make modifications. There could be thousands of different ways of injecting artistic expression into the robot’s art and most of them might never occur to Wayne and Carter. The prospect of what might come of open software got them thinking about open hardware.

Spray paint and chalk are the media they’d been thinking about. Then someone asked Carter about painting on ice. Another wanted to apply frosting. Yet another was interested in using felt-tip markers as their medium. Each of these would require hardware modifications to be done well. Opening up the hardware design would add many new dimensions and not just to applying the media. This was really getting interesting!

So now the definition of their ambitions took shape: using robots for creative expression with the world as a canvas was the goal. How could they achieve it? Open software and hardware would be the keys to having a community expose the possibilities but such communities don’t spontaneously appear. If they were going to explore the potential of this idea then they were going to have to build and foster a community. To fund the development of the website they chose Kickstarter.

These two are passionate to fill a gap between technology and art using robots to paint the world. Will they get the funds necessary to build and stock the site? Will their site succeed at enlisting a corp of people with a similar ambition? They hope so. However, even if it doesn’t, theirs is not a passion that’s ebbing anytime soon. Carter and Wayne are into this for the long haul and I suspect we’ll soon be seeing expressive evidence of their success.