How the Original Eggbot Was Hatched

Art & Sculpture

This article first appeared in the Make Things newsletter. To subscribe to this weekly newsletter by Dale Dougherty, visit

People have been hand-painting eggs for a long time and in many cultures. Bruce Shapiro came up with idea to build a drawing robot that could draw patterns on eggs. An artist who lives in Minnesota, Bruce creates art using machines and Eggbot was his first art project, dating back to 1990.

“I grew up enchanted by music, electronics, and making things.  I pursued a career in medicine and spent several years as a practicing physician,” explains Bruce on his website. He left a career as a medical doctor to re-invent himself as an artist, somewhat to the surprise of his family and friends.

He was interested in “motion control” using computers to control stepper motors. In a 2008 Cool Hunting video, he describes a stepper motor as “breaking motion into discrete steps,” and he thought of each step as a “motion pixel.” He wondered: “what if by breaking motion into pixels, or pieces, artists could do the same thing with motion that they were doing on the screen.” His website is The Art of Motion Control. Eggbot is a 2D CNC machine, meaning it operates along the X and Y axes, but the machine must rotate the egg as the pen moves around to draw on the shell.

The Original Eggbot (photo by Bruce Shapiro)

The thing I will always remember about creating the first Eggbot in 1990 is that it was an act of desperation. After months of experimenting and library visits, I had finally figured out how to control a stepper motor. I was so excited that I invited everyone I knew to a demo in my shop — which consisted of two steppers with a piece of tape sticking out from their shafts, doing a lame semaphore flag “dance.” 

Because I’d recently left my medical practice to pursue art (and more time with my kids), I was pretty sure everyone suspected I might be losing my mind. The demo confirmed it.

They thought that what he was doing was crazy and he was crazy to leave his medical career behind to do it.

It was my first realization (but certainly not last) that no matter how excited I get by the promise I see in motion control as a new art medium, it doesn’t at all mean others will share it. I guess convincing them is my job as an artist.

Easter was coming in a few weeks and I’d promised to help the kids color their eggs.  But mostly, I needed some evidence I wasn’t entirely nuts. 

In 2006, Bruce along with his wife, Bev, came to the very first Maker Faire in San Mateo and brought Eggbot along with other projects. “The whole thing was so amazing,” he recalls. There, he met Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories’ Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman (and Bre Pettis who worked for Make). “EMSL’s 3D sugar printer bonded me to them instantly,” he said. “My wife recalls (fondly) how incredibly exhausted / elated we were as we packed up our car and headed out on Sunday evening.”

Eggbot station at first Maker Faire Bay Area in 2006. (photo by Bruce Shapiro)

To create an egg painting, the user creates an image in Inkscape and downloads it to the machine, which translates it into instructions to control the motors and the pen to draw on the egg. In 2009, Bruce created the first version of a kit, which had a custom board and acrylic case. In this video is short demo of an Eggbot drawing “eggbot” on an egg.

In 2010 Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman of Evil Mad Science Labs worked with Bruce to produce a new and improved kit, dubbed Eggbot 2.0, which we covered in an article in September 2010. The frame was made out of the sturdy material used for circuit boards, a decision by Windell’s that Bruce called “brilliant.”

Eggbot 2.0 (photo from EMSL)

One never quite knows what people will do with their own Eggbot. Daniel Newman used his EMSL Eggbot rotary plotter to print an accurate nutrition label on the side of a raw egg. (link)

Nutrition label printed on egg using Eggbot by Daniel Newman (photo via Thingaverse.)

Sadly, Eggbot is no longer available. Bantam Tools acquired Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories in January of this year, and Windell and Lenore went to work with Bre Pettis. Their stated goal is to “create the next generation of art and handwriting machines.” This week, Bre Pettis wrote “Programming Art without Formal Training“ on Medium.

“Lenore and Windel let me know a while ago,” said Bruce. “I’m happy for them and wish them the best on their new adventure.” Since around 2016, Bruce has been working on Sisyphus, a kinetic art table that draws patterns on sand. He raised money on Kickstarter to produce them commercially and formed a company, Sisyphus Industries.

“As for Eggbot, I have mixed feelings,” said Bruce. “It will always be my firstborn. I handed off Eggbot a long time ago. But for me it was never about “Eggbot,” or “Sisyphus” or any specific creation.” It was about exploring the art of motion control as a medium.

The original Eggbot is dead. Long live the Eggbot.

EMSL provided open source instructions for Eggbot on GitHub. One can find many Eggbot knockoffs online as well as alternative DIY projects for drawing on an egg.

After I published the newsletter, reader Richard Lewis wrote that he had built an egg lathe for his granddaughter.

DIY Egg Lathe by Richard Lewis
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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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