Mathew Stein's PumaPaint

I recently spoke with Mathew Stein about his painting robot PumaPaint. Way back in 1998 he equipped a Puma robotic arm with a brush, aimed a web-cam at it, and then invited the internet to crowdsource paintings with it. And he did all this before even crowdsourcing was even a word. In the first two years of the project alone over 25,000 unique users created 500 paintings. The robot continued creating crowdsourced painting for about 10 years.

I asked Mathew if he realized how ahead of its time his PumaPaint Project was.  He laughed and said he had not realized it until the New York Times wrote an article about him.

Oddly enough though, Mathew Stein, does not seam to consider himself an artist, or even realize that his project was an interactive performance art piece. For him it was about the technology and interaction with people around the world. Successful exhibitions in today's art scene are all about audience interaction and experimentation with new media. Without even setting out to do so, Mathew Steins' PumaPaint achieved both on a global scale.  People from around the world were able to use the newly emerging internet to control a teleoperated robotic arm and paint with each other. This would be a cool interactive exhibit by today's standards, and it was done 20 years ago.

Below are some examples of the crowdsourced art produced by PumaPaint. Mathew Stein considers the painting on the right from 2005 to be the single "most interesting piece from PumaPaint."

Whether or not Mathew Stein realizes he is an artist, I do. And much of my own robotic art has been inspired by his early work.