Jonathan Warren

Wires Expert GitHub YouTube Blogger LinkedIn


Fall 2017, Spring 2018

This was a pretty interesting concept for a sponsor's booth at a digital+physical art festival - we were tasked to build "robots" that will trace custom vector art, and to try to make it interactive

The Approach

I worked on this with a team, and we initially did some research into what was out there, and picked a few products to trial. This was one of those rare and wonderful projects where there was actually some time to think first, and a small R&D budget!


Ultimately we determined that the options on the market weren't as robust as we needed. We turned our attention to large format CNC devices (computer controlled cutting, milling, etc.) where we'd simply remove the drill and attach a pen. There is a big market for custom and hobbyist CNC devices, however with the minimum 4-foot by 4-foot drawing area requirement, it was still a challenge locating something at the right price and size point.

Raccoon1     Raccoon2

I learned a ton on this project. The mechanical nature of the CNC machines, especially at this large size, was my first explosure to the nuances of individual machines and how you learned what they could and couldn't do by feel and experience. I also learned a ton about vector art, processing vector art, and the intricies of G-Code (the standard command language that most of these types of machines run on). What I wasn't expecting was how much continuous maintenance would need to be invested into these machines. They'd pull out of alignment, the pen would run dry, etc. and someone had to basically live beside these "automated" machines to keep them running and their output looking sharp.

With these skills, I was also able to help build out the interactive part of this piece. In the end, the approach we took was hooking up many arcade buttons around the structure it was all inside. Each button would adjust the live speed of the device, and the more buttons that were held down at once, the faster it would go. The buttons were spaced so no one person could press them all at once - teamwork required! Folks got a kick out of it.

Collage1     Collage2

I got the opportunity to dust off these skills and this hardware again a year later for a different program. Here the idea was to write donor's names "live" on coloured plexiglass at a conference in Las Vegas. It was ultimately successful, but required a lot of time spent realigning and making corrections to names where the pen ran dry.