Shenzhen Maker Open Competition

This is a competition organized by Makeblock company during the Shenzhen Maker Faire. 8 teams from China + 4 team from University of Utah, Trento Italy, Salzburg Austria and my team (I don’t know how to identify ourselves). I’m from MIT an HKU, my two teammates Naichun Chan from MIT SMArchS Urbanism and Xiliu Yang from HKU BAAS.

The topic of the competition is very Chinese in the sense that it is a classical art topic. Below is the topic given to us the night before the competition begins. We decided to make a machine that combines the techniques of splashing ink (a type of painting skill) and participatory contemporary art. The machine will rotate like a radar, and will detect objects near the machine with a LIDAR range sensor. Once a nearby object is detected, it will stop and do one ink splash around the machine in the relative distance of the detected object.

Theme of Maker Open: Lyre, Chess, Calligraphy, and Painting

In ancient time, lyre, chess, calligraphy, and painting are the required skills for literati and poets to cultivate their moral character; hence they collectively refer to “the four friends of literati and poets”. Nowadays, the meaning of lyre, chess, calligraphy, and painting have broadened, referring to the cultural accomplishments of individual. What if robot could also have such accomplishments? Can you imagine it?

The theme of Maker Open is designated as “Lyre, Chess, Calligraphy, and Painting”. How technology and art perfectly combine with each other? And what kind of “chemical reaction” shall such combination trigger? Let’s see!

Lyre: it refers to musical instruments, including wind instrument, plucked instrument and percussion instrument. As long as your device can be played, just show it!

Chess: the game of go, chess, gobang, etc. No matter it is the game of go or the crazy adventure of Aeroplane Chess, just design it with the very thought of you. How about a game of “fighting a battle of wits, not of limbs”?

Calligraphy: it is the character representation in the form of art, covering Chinese character calligraphy, Arabian calligraphy, English calligraphy and so on. Every brushstroke implies the ancients’ wisdom in creating characters. Isn’t it great if the robot you invent could write and exhibit the unique charm and rhythm of character?

Painting: it is an expression of freedom and individuality. How to make your robot or device convey the emblematical essence through fresh and lively visual image? Let’s make it work!

To free creativity and imagination, there will be not so many restrictions on the theme of Maker Open. As long as there’s correlation, it shall be considered conforming to the theme. However, it’s required for each team to present an actual object but not a mere concept.


Left: Naichun Chan ; Middle: Xiliu Yang ; Right: Me


Day 1


Trying to alight and butt join two linear guide rail. The provided rail is only 500 mm long.


Naichun’s ink splashing test – Ink consistency, pen size, splash force, pen angle.


Ink pot for dipping


Two pens mounted on a linear axis


Pen is spring loaded and is rotated by stepper motors. A ratcheting mechanism allows quick release of the pen.IMG_2849

Ink pot is able to go up and down.IMG_2856 IMG_2862 IMG_2886

Digital servo motor by makeblock – lifts the ink pot using a asymmetrical cranking mechanism



Rotation is driven by a wheel directly driven by a stepper motor.


Splash is about action art.
It captures the process of making art
Art defined by rules
Rules executed not by human
But influenced by human participation
Through robotics, the authorship of art is questioned


Splash can sense its surrounding
LiDAR detects obstacle by illuminating and detecting light reflected by an object
Splash rotates 360 degrees to scan the area around itself
When an object is detected within range, a splash ink is made to the canvas
Splash runs indefinitely, producing a record of stationary and moving objects around the robot
Movable ink tanks reload the brushes
Stepper motor mounted on the far end of a 1 meter arm rotates the whole robot
Stepper motor with ratcheting gears stretches a rubber band
A simple servo triggers the ratchet to splash


Viewers surrounding the robot caused the splashes.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If no one is viewing Splash, did the splash occurred?