The calligraphy robot

The calligraphy robot

A new calligraphy robot has been developed by a team at Keio University under the direction of Professor Seiichiro Katsura. Using a technology called the Motion Copy System, the robot identifies, stores, and mimics the complex brush strokes of shodo (書道, traditional Japanese calligraphy) and reproduces them perfectly.

It takes years of careful study for a human being to learn shodo properly. But the calligraphy robot can reproduce its works of art instantly. Is there anything at all that robots can't do?

The Calligraphy Robot
Photo by npdoty

How the robot works

The calligraphy robot uses a master and slave system where the head of the brush is the master and the tip is the slave. A motor attached to the robot records the movement and also speed of a human artist.

But what's really unique about the robot is that it can perfectly replicate the force that's applied to the brush, which is an important element of shodo. It does this by using specially designed sensors. It's the first robot developed that can do this.

The robot's developers hope that it can reproduce calligraphy perfectly. Tests were conducted with Juho Sado, an 89-year-old master calligrapher. Although Katsura and his team say it's difficult to get an exact replication, Sado was impressed with the results.

Why the world needs calligraphy writing robots

Robots can do cool stuff faster and more perfectly than we can. So what? Keio University scientists don't develop robots just to make we mere humans feel inferior. The purpose of the calligraphy robot is to help preserve this traditional Japanese art form.

Young Japanese people live in a world full of cool gadgets, video games, and other attention-span crushing shiny objects. There's a growing generation gap and fewer of the nation's youth than ever before are taking up traditional calligraphy. The fact that many young Japanese people struggle to remember the kanji (漢字 – Japanese writing system that uses Chinese ideograms) used in daily life and the low birth rate are also contributing factors. Many fear that calligraphy is a dying art that not enough young people are taking up.

Robots can store and preserve this data in what's called a skill repository. They can also be used for teaching calligraphy. Shodo is usually taught by older Japanese directly to younger Japanese through intuition and experience. Now, the process can be automated and hopefully, no nuance will be lost.

The calligraphy robot's debut

The calligraphy robot is still in the early stages of development. The first prototype is basically a robotic arm with a mess of wires. It isn't much to look at but it can do amazing things with a brush and some ink. It was displayed at the Japan information technology exhibit at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC) in Chiba in 2012.

Maybe they'll develop a robot that can write everyone's hundreds of yearly nengajo (年賀状–New Year's cards) for them?