While walking through the fairgrounds of World Maker Faire, I came across a strange line of words written with sand on the pavement. Following the sentence down the path, I realized that it was a poem… and at the end? A beautiful robot! Luckily, Gijs van Bon, the artist who made the magnificent machine, was on site to tell me all about it.

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On the surface, Skryf is just a machine designed to write poetry and literature in public space, but there’s an underlying meaning to the temporary nature of the text. van Bon explains

I was asked to perform 40 poems during a 10 day festival, and the poems were about transition and letting go. And then I thought the obvious thing to do as an artist is to make a machine that writes those poems with sand. I started writing them, and when the third poem was written, the first one was completely gone, and it was such a beautiful thing.

Skryf is actually composed of two main parts connected by a long cable: a laptop strapped on top of a battery, and the sand writing machine which trails behind. The machine has two large motors and one small servo. One of the motors controls the forward and backward motion of the machine’s wheels, while the other controls the side to side motion of the arm that carries the sand reservoir. At the bottom of the sand reservoir, a servo opens and shuts to deposit the sand onto the ground in precise movements.

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To print text, van Bon simply types it into the laptop, and the text is converted into lines that the machine traces out. The machine then rolls along, moving the arm back and forth and opening and shutting the servo to “print” sand. The above interview was actually a bit difficult to conduct, as van Bon kept having to dash off to refill the reservoir.

Now van Bon travels the world, performing temporary poems in short-lived public installations. He has also built two other sand writing machines, capable of writing and drawing pictures on the ground with colored sand. For more information on Skryf and the other sand writers van Bon has made, make sure to visit his website!