The Robot Artist


After struggling with his mental health and going on medication, Patrick Tresset lost his passion for art. But he built a generation of robots, all named Paul, that can draw portraits. Torie Bosch profiles Tresset, his creations, and his creations' creations:

Tresset’s robots use computer vision to identify their subjects—they can recognize faces—and then they spend about 30 minutes on each portrait. (One of his earlier-generation robots, Pete, will actually doodle when there are no faces in sight to draw.) The early versions were crude and involved not physical robots but simulated drawing created with computer-aided drafting programs. But over the past 10 years or so, Tresset and Frederic Fol Leymarie, his co-director at the Aikon project at Goldsmiths University of London, have made tremendous progress. Can you tell which image [above] was made by a computer and which was created by Tresset before he lost his inspiration?

Robots face some of the same problems in learning to draw as humans do, Tresset says. "When we draw, the difficulty is not in making the lines. The difficulty is in the perception of the subject and the perception of the drawing in progress." But sometimes, it may help to make it seem that the robot has difficulty in making the lines—Tresset has found that people feel more empathy for the machines when they make human-esque mistakes like crooked or tilted lines. 

(The left sketch is by Tresset, the right one by robot Paul.)