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Motorized Michelangelo: Building an Art Robot with Servo Motors *

Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites A basic familiarity with programming is needed to do this project.
Material Availability

This robotics engineering project requires that you purchase VEX® robotics materials. See the Materials tab for a suggestion of some VEX® parts to use. With a little problem-solving, you may be able to substitute another robotics platform.

The RobotC software needed to program the VEX system is Windows based. If you are using an Apple computer you will need to use visualization software such as VirtualBox or VMware®.

Cost Very High (over $150)
Safety Use caution with tools when assembling the robot. Minor injury is possible.
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Are you an artist, or do you enjoy the process of making art? What kind of art do you create? Do only humans make art? Not always. Robots can create art, too. Robots can be programmed and "taught" to do all kinds of things, such as delivering medications to hospital patients or putting together a car on an assembly line. The Vangobot™, shown in the video below, paints pictures with brushes and paint, and in a distinct, unique style - just like a human artist.
Video on Vangobot™
Watch this video
to discover more about the Vangobot;. This robot can paint a picture using a painting that a human makes on a computer as a guide. It can also paint a picture from a photograph based on a couple of different painting styles.

The Vangobot can change its brush length and stroke, and it can vary the intensity of color it uses. But it is different from a human artist in two important ways. First, the Vangobot requires a computer program to tell it what to paint and to give it a roadmap of how to paint something. It depends on mathematics to figure out how to hold the brush for the next brush stroke, but once it knows this, it can add texture to its stroke. Second, unlike a human artist, the Vangobot has only one eye. The inventors of the Vangobot have said that with their robot's vision system, they are exploring the boundary of human vision.

In this robotics engineering Abbreviated Project Idea, you will build a robot from VEX® components that will create art (see the Materials section for a suggestion of some VEX parts to get you started). Design your robot to include a servo motor. The task of the servo motor is to push a marker onto the canvas (and lift it back up off of the canvas) when required by you, the artist. A servo (short for servo motor) is a motor with a feedback mechanism that allows for accurate positioning. One difference between a servo and a regular DC motor is that you can ask a servo to move a certain amount and once it moves that amount, it will stop. A regular motor will keep going until you tell it to stop. Read more about servos in the Introduction to Servo Motors tutorial. Other parts that you will use to build your robot include: metal rails and angles for the body of the robot; a microcontroller that acts as the "brains" of the robot; DC motors that provide motion; sensors, devices that measure a quantity like distance or light and convert this data into an electrical signal; nuts and bolts; gears; and batteries or a connection to power. Check out the Robot Picasso: Building a Robot That Creates Art Project Idea, a more basic version of this robotics engineering project, to see pictures and other information about how you could build your art robot's main body parts or for ideas on testing your robot.

In order to have both the DC motor and the servo move according to your directions, you will have to communicate with it using a program written in RobotC. If you have a PC with the Windows® operating system, you can download RobotC directly to your computer and get started. If you have an Apple computer, you will have to first install virtualization software like VirtualBox or VMware on your computer, then within the virtualization software install the Windows operating system, and finally, install RobotC. To learn more about programming with RobotC, check out the reference listed in the Bibliography and other online resources.

If you would like an even bigger challenge, continue with the Drawing Dali-bot: Designing an Art Robot That Switches Colors Project Idea, where the engineering challenge is to create an art robot that not only lifts the marker up from the page, but also switches markers, adding the option of using more colors in a picture.


Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies

  • Windows® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation
  • VMware® is a registered trademark of VMware, Inc.
  • Vex® is a registered trademark of Innovation First International, Inc.
  • Vangobot™ is a registered trademark of Pop Art Machine Studios

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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Motorized Michelangelo: Building an Art Robot with Servo Motors" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 6 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Robotics_p006.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, March 6). Motorized Michelangelo: Building an Art Robot with Servo Motors. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Robotics_p006.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-03-06


  • Innovation First International, Inc. (2012). VEX robotics design system: Think. Create. Build. Amaze. VEX. Retrieved June 7, 2012, from www.vexrobotics.com

AARON is a software program and robot created by Harold Cohen that makes original art. The following article by Cohen discusses how he started on his path to making AARON and some of the problems he has had to solve:

The Vangobot™ is a robot that paints highly detailed pictures based on complex mathematical calculations. The following website and video share articles on how the Vangobot works.

The following is a reference containing a tutorial on RobotC:

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Materials and Equipment

  • VEX dual control robot starter kit (VEX part number 276-2700); available for purchase at the Science Buddies Store.
  • VEX programming bundle; available for purchase at the Science Buddies Store. The bundle includes:
    • RobotC
    • Cables and other hardware required to transfer RobotC programs to your VEX robot
    • Servo motor (1)
      • Additional servo motors can be purchased from the Science Buddies Store if your robot design requires more than one.
  • Markers (minimum of 1, more if you would like additional colors)
  • Canvas. Your canvas can be simply a large piece of paper, several smaller sheets of paper taped together, or a stretched linen canvas. You will need at least two to three canvases for practicing with the robot.
  • Lab notebook
  • Computer with an Internet connection.
  • Optional: Virtual Box or VMWare virtualization software. This is needed to run RobotC if you are using an Apple computer for programming rather than a Windows computer.

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