The beloved scientist gets the artistic treatment thanks to the "bitPaintr" robot. The beloved scientist gets the artistic treatment thanks to the "bitPaintr" robot. The beloved scientist gets the artistic treatment thanks to the "bitPaintr" robot. (Photo: Courtesy Pindar Var Arman)

This robot can paint a masterpiece of Einstein

An inventor-turned-artist has created a machine with such skill, it now paints better than him.

When we reach Pindar Van Arman by phone on a recent Thursday morning, the 41-year-old is at a Home Depot near his home in Washington, D.C. He's not looking for construction materials, widgets or nails. No, he's shopping for his robot. "I can order, but sometimes I'm impatient," he told us, attempting to justify his shopping errand.

The robot in question has a mind of its own. Van Arman, a software engineer by day and artist by night, has invented a robot with artificial intelligence. And he's taught it to paint masterpieces. The robot has become so smart, it barely needs any input from Van Arman. "The weirdest thing it showed me is that I'm not as creative as I thought. It's now better than me at painting," he says with a laugh.

The robot has a penchant for painting famous historical figures – Gandhi, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln – but it's the recreation of Albert Einstein that might be the most beloved.

"Einstein's face is the most recognizable face worldwide," Hanoch Gutfreund, a leading theoretical physicist in Israel, told From The Grapevine. Gutfreund, the director of the Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, serves as caretaker to 80,000 documents which span the spectrum of both Einstein's personal and professional life.

Van Arman takes it a step further. "Einstein would probably have loved things like this," he says referring to a robot that can paint. "I imagine he was a nerd, right?"

Van Arman grew up along the Mediterranean Sea. He moved to the United States and attended Ohio Wesleyan for undergrad and went to graduate school at the Corcoran School of Art in D.C. "I wanted to be a painter. I don't know why because it's kind of a silly thing to aspire to when you think about it."

Van Arman's paintings have become so popular, he now has a six-month backlog of orders. And yet he's still keeping his day job as an engineer. Not because he has to, but because he doesn't want to turn his artistic passion into a business. "I never would've realized that if it wasn't for this success," he admits. "So I feel like the luckiest person ever." What's more, now that his robot can paint so well, it has freed up Van Arman's time to spend with his three children.

"I like to stick to historical figures," the artist explains. "They're people that everyone recognizes.""I like to stick to historical figures," the artist explains. "They're people that everyone recognizes." (Photo: Craig Hudson/Courtesy Pindar Van Arman)

He's currently compiling his work for a traveling art exhibition that has stops in London, D.C. and elsewhere. The robot will be available at each stop on the tour. Audience members will be able to upload photos, and watch as the robot starts working on the portraits right then and there.

Van Arman has also created a website, CrowdPainter.com, where people can log in and actually take control of the robot as it sits idle in his studio. "You can do it right now if you wanted," he tells us over the phone. "I think I left it on."

He pauses, and then adds: "The paint's gonna be dry now, so it won't paint well. I need to load it up with paint." Something he plans on doing, just as soon he gets back from Home Depot.

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