Disney’s Beachbot robotic turtle draws pictures in the sand using a controllable, pressurized rake and laser scanner.

Disney’s Beachbot robotic turtle draws pictures in the sand using a controllable, pressurized rake and laser scanner.

It’s not unusual to see sea turtles on any given beach around the globe, however it’s not every day that a robotic turtle is encountered, even more so when it’s creating works of art. That’s exactly what ETH Zurich’s Beachbot was designed for — autonomously creating large scale sand drawings.

The Disney-subsidized researchers designed the robot to amaze beachgoers as they passed by. They can not only enjoy the completed pieces, but also marvel at the creation as it’s being made.

Those posts embedded in the sand help the robot orient its position as well as the picture placement.

The white posts embedded in the sand help the robot orient its position as well as the picture placement.

The Beachbot produces the sand art by translating an image using specialized algorithms into trajectory points on a 10′×10′ grid. Four posts are arranged into a square outline that the robot uses as reference points in order to orient itself as well as for picture placement inside the designated area.

The robot houses an onboard computer that’s connected to a laser scanner to detect the posts and aligns itself accordingly. It then uses the telemetry from the scanner as well as an IMU (Internal Measurement Unit) to plot its path and then engages a controllable pressurized rake to draw the image.

I had a chance to ask one of the researchers that are still developing the Beachbot if the robotic turtle could be adapted to use other mediums, such as gravel or snow, in order to bring robotic art into urban areas. Wolf Vollprecht, the lead of Path Planning for the Beachbot program, responded stating, “Yes, it’s a possibility to adapt the BeachBot for other surfaces. We have an experimental spray paint prototype! (However, we cannot show it at the moment).”

Self-portrait, Neo Classical or Postmodern? While it still is in development, the Beachbot can certainly produce nicely designed works of art.

Self-portrait, Neo Classical or Postmodern? While it’s still in development, the Beachbot can certainly produce nicely designed works of art.

Wolf goes on to say, “Of course, being based in Switzerland, we have thought about snow painting as well. However, there is another set of problems in the snow and it would require some serious adaptations to the robot, i.e. snow chains).”

It will be interesting to see what the Beachbot produces next and with what medium!