Filmmaking Robot Has Roving Artistic Vision

Here's something new - a robot that makes its own movies. The eyes of the robot travel around the city on buses; the brain of the robot sits in an art gallery. The eyes of the robot collect short snippets of video, which are then transmitted to the brain of the robot as soon as the bus comes within range of a wireless Internet note.

The brain of the robot splits the video into individual frames and analyzes each one; 20 numbers reflecting the arrangement of color, shape, and detail within each frame are specified. For twelve hours a day, the robot traces a path through this visual space. But at the end of the day, the robot looks over its day's work, and joins the best parts together as a finished film. Neural networks and heuristic rules are used, but the finished film is mainly selected based on the smoothness of its movement through space.


(Selected robot film images)

The robot does not judge all of the still images it uses in creating its dreamlike movies. These are called waypoints, or targets; it traces lines between these points. The other pictures are selected because they live on the path to the next wave point. The 20 numbers that pertain to each image are fed into its five the judge mental faculties, which are:

  • Fine art. A neural network is trained to like a selection of fine art images found on the web. Most are impressionist paintings from ibiblio's web museum, but there is some contemporary and New Zealand art.
  • David Hall. David divided 100 of the robot's images into three sets, depending whether they were good, bad, or neither. A network was trained to like the good ones and hate the bad ones.
  • Enthusiast. Each day a network starts from scratch and tries to learn from and reinforce the judgement of the other two.
  • Away from mean. This heuristic prefers images on the edge of the space. Images in the centre will get included anyway, as paths traced between remote waypoints will cross the centre.
  • Away from recents. This heuristic dislikes waypoints similar to ones recently used.
The robot has a capacity of up to 5 million images; once this maximum capacity has been reached, the robot will replace its least favorite images with new ones. The robot is even capable of creating false memories, by combining and manipulating well liked and overused images.

This new robot bears an intriguing resemblance to a fictional robot camera created by science fiction writer Karen Traviss. In her 2004 novel City of Pearl, she writes about bee cam, a small, airborne, self-guided personal camcorder.

This fictional device is a little more advanced in terms of being able to determine its own direction; it is implied that the bee cam is able to find its way back to a specified location.

...He made a mental note to have the bee cam permanently active in the future, just in case he missed another chance of good footage...

He set the bee cam to focus on any movement and enjoyed the day around him. Who would have thought he would end up doing wildlife documentaries?
(Read more about the bee cam)

The filmmaking robot project was apparently headed by Douglas Bagnall, who is so incredibly modest that it is almost impossible to determine who conceived of this idea. You can see one it its films here. Story found here.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/30/2006)

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