Frontier Fellows’ ‘Hangbot’ Sketches Images and Data

Video Transcript

Artifacts from WID’s research are easy to come by in the Discovery Building. In most cases, the writing’s on the wall — quite literally. Algorithms, formulas, equations, charts and segments of computer code grace walls, windows, doors and any glass surface that supports a dry erase marker.

But one group of students has envisioned a different type of method to adorn the research space.

Meet “Hangbot,” a stylus-driven robot designed by a group of WID’s Frontier Fellows. Controlled by a computer and motorized pulley system, the robot sketches images and data while suspended via suction cups on flat surfaces.

UW–Madison engineering students Jack Boland and Ian Anderson, along with Paul Lorenz, a third year graduate student in the Department of Art’s master of fine arts program, teamed up to bring the bot to life.

After conceptualizing the project earlier in the year, Boland says he hopes the idea gets other people thinking about the potentials of using the technology for advertisements and announcements — two costly endeavors depending on large-scale printing or relying on energy-expensive TV screens. The machine also differs from standard printers or plotters in that it functions with two axes operating in unison opposed to each axis moving independently.

Lorenz, who uses an art perspective to engage with the technology, finds the new data visualization technique fascinating in its own right.

“The Hangbot is an example of a totally new type of media,” says Lorenz. “What I’m interested in is finding out what types of ideas are endemic to the medium.”

For instance, once the machine is removed, telltale remnants of the medium remain, he explains, including sweeping lines produced by the tug of the pulleys and a fine line that connects each stroke of the image (since the bot can not lift the stylus — yet).

Lorenz says the group hopes to devise a program that can translate real-time data from sources such as Twitter and craft a way for Hangbot to continuously redraw or revise a given drawing without the aid of a human hand to erase.

By Marianne Spoon

Video produced by Casimir Panawash-Bielinski and Marianne Spoon