Expanding the Robot Family: An update in collaborative drawing tools and speculating future design possibilities

This article is an update on my collaborative drawing robots: an ongoing research project that emerged around 2015 with colleague Rebecca Tegtmeyer, after a series of investigations exploring the role of technology in design collaborations.

To see a former post, click here: New Research in Development: Remote Drawing Robot

This past year, we were able to expand on our research and present our findings in multiple professional contexts. The first included a presentation in a small, intimate group setting at Design Inquiry.  This experience provided valuable insight that led to a more formal paper presentation at the 12th European Academy of Design (#EAD12) Conference, Design for Next, in Rome, Italy this past April. This paper, Speculating the Possibilities for Remote Collaborative Design Research. The Experimentations of a Drawing Robot, was published this fall by Taylor & Francis. The work has also been exhibited at the San Francisco State University Design Gallery. The exhibit, Inside/Outside: Working Our Way Out of the Damaged Now (Design as Dialectics), ran from Feb. 16 through March 30, 2017.

The work explores how the use of present technologies speculate future possibilities for remote design collaboration, where interactions and exchanges are limited to those mediated by technological devices. Specifically, we are interested in how the use of present technologies support remote-collaborative making that takes place off the screen, in non-digital formats, in the physical environment.


In this configuration, I am “Researcher A” (collaborating from Memphis) and my primary role is to drive the robot from the web interface; I am connected to the physical location (in Michigan) via WiFi in real-time to draw with the robot.


While, Rebecca, aka. “Researcher B” (collaborating from Michigan) acts as the facilitator by managing the collaborative-making experience in the physical space; she sets up the space and guides decisions on mark-making tools.

We have worked with this configuration in both Memphis and Michigan, exchanging roles of driver and facilitator, and working with two robots.

roverandel.jpgMemphis robot, Rover (left) and Michigan robot, El (right)

By drawing from existing technologies across multiple categories of tools including live video streaming, live editing tools, and drawing machines, these robots alter the experiences of remote collaborations. Through experimental making activities that prioritized a collaborative process over outcomes, we created numerous abstract artifacts.


The work above shows some of the pieces we have exhibited and published over the last year. This year, we have new goals for expanding this project on multiple fronts. We are currently working on building new robots to experiment with different features for movement and drawing.

The above two robots (left is named Sunny, right is named Hal) are currently being designed in Memphis. Sunny and Hal both have different driving capabilities, using multiple servo motors to control movement of the robot itself as well as additional arm attachments that can move peripherals like the camera and drawing tools. 

Our longer-term goals include creating a website that will run on a cloud network so that we can open access to other users, which would also include upgrading the drawing interface that runs in the browsers. We also want to package the robot with instructions for future collaborators. In order to do this, we are working on simplifying the process—robot assembly, pi set up, network set up, interface access, and studio set up—with the goal of expanding the project.

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