I set out to create a machine to help people create custom artwork for their surroundings. I used to paint murals, but they’re very labor intensive and time consuming. I wanted a way to speed up the process so there’d be more murals covering empty walls. A year ago I started to make Botsy, a robot that quickly outlines any vector file on a wall.
And what is your background that enabled you to do this?
I graduated with mechanical and aerospace engineering degrees. I also painted and made art all my life. My whole family is either an engineer or an artist of some sort. I’m sort of in the middle.
That does seem like the intersection of those two (usually disparate) realms. How would you explain the mechanics of Botsy to a layman?
The robot has a brain, micro-controller. The user sends a vector file to the brain, which in turn gives commands to motors to move in a specific way to make the user file come to life. There is a lot more details but essentially that’s how it works.
I’ve seen the murals—they look lifelike, as if they were hand-drawn. Did it take a lot of work to achieve that effect? Is the mural, relative to what’s possible, identical to the file it derives from?
The robot outlines anything that is given to it. A human then fills it in with color, so it is very much hand-drawn with the robot assisting the human in outlining the image to scale. The outline has tolerances of approximately 1/16". It took me three months to build a version that drew vector files but it wasn’t very good. Another 2 months went by to make a version that could draw on a large scale, consistently and accurately. I am currently working on a version that I can manufacture in small batches to sell to others.
How have you found the manufacturing/scaling process so far? Do you enjoy the business side of the operation as well?
I manufacture everything in a local hackerspace. It’s a lot more challenging to make many robots instead of just one. Tolerances on parts become an issue because every part is a little bit different. I look for ways of how to optimize my time and the design when manufacturing. I enjoy the business side but not as much as the art side and the designing part. I offer mural services to those who don’t want to buy the robot but want a mural. The artistic side is treated just like the engineering side. I calculate how much time the painting process takes, how much creative effort goes into coming up with content and I even have a price calculator that breaks down murals into their basic components and prices them.
What type of clients have you had the chance to work with so far?
Government agencies, homeowners, kids, local DIY types, car dealerships. It’s kind of all over. All people want artwork and robots that draw. The robot is just a tool to let people create art in their everyday environment.
Ideally, what would the Botsy project look like in a year? Five years?
I want to sell an army of Botsy’s to people who love to create. I want to see empty walls be filled with art that tells a story of the place and people there. I would also love for artists and creators to share artwork with each other and non-artistic people. The robot can be shipped anywhere in the world and act as a hand of an artist. For example, a graphic designer in NYC can send an artwork file to family with a Botsy in Burnsville, North Carolina. The artist doesn’t need to be physically present in order to reach more people and share their artwork and in turn people don’t have to live in NYC to experience great art. The goal is to fill the world with custom art using the latest technology to help the process be accessible to more people.
Have you been managing the project from start to finish yourself?
I started out building everything myself and as time went on, the project started to become a business. I receive advice and mentoring from the Gainesville community, who have been very supportive and have helped me grow Botsy into a business. My dad also became very involved with Botsy and has been helping me with the things that I lack experience in. To summarize, I work alone but I don’t feel alone in Gainesville.
Gainesville has a surprisingly fertile startup and tech community. How integral have they been in your starting and executing this idea?
If I wasn’t in Gainesville, the project wouldn’t have happened.
If you could start the project over from the beginning, what would you do differently?
I’d try to delegate work more instead of trying to do everything myself. Speaking of, I’m looking for graphic designers to work with—people who can make art and get paid for it! Get in touch if that’s you.
Thanks so much for your time Liza. You’re doing something really cool, and we can’t wait to see the project continue to grow.
Thanks for the interview!