A2 + B2 = ART

Local inventor Scott Cooper used simple mathematics to invent a robot artist, and the results were magnificent.

Story by Kathryn Greene

At the 2014 Maker Faire held at Union Station, there was no shortage of gadgets, crafts and inventions, and it was among this pleasantly overwhelming sea of innovation that we found the Drawbot by Scott Cooper.

The Drawbot is a piece of plywood with an attached poster board and a Sharpie suspended in the middle, balanced by free-weights on either side. The Sharpie appears autonomous, zooming across the poster board freely, leaving behind a frenzy of black lines. Up close, they look no different than mindless doodles. Take a few steps back, however, and the image is clear: it is a portrait of Jimi Hendrix.

So how exactly does this work? It is a question that Cooper has come to expect. “If you know the Pythagorean Theorem, you can make this too,” he says. “It’s just A squared plus B squared equals C squared … and a piece of plywood.”

The Drawbot is a bit more complicated than Cooper lets on, considering it’s backed by thousands of lines of computer code and a little machinery. But the concept of creating an artist-free piece of art using mathematics is inspiring to say the least.

Cooper chooses a high contrast image, grabs a fresh Sharpie (just one of several that will be needed to complete the piece), and lets the program go.


“Images are processed by software, which converts bitmap pixel data to line commands,” he explains. “Trigonometry is used to determine the proper length of each string as a function of time to generate the motor commands.”

In other words, the computer looks for the next darkest spot in the image, and that’s where it sends the Sharpie to draw.

While we thought it would be best to leave the math calculations and computer programming to Cooper and simply enjoy the show, our experience at Maker Faire left us wondering, are artist-free creations the next movement in the art world?

Only time will tell. If you are interested in one of Cooper’s Drawbot creation, visit