John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An urban hacker from Tokyo thinks street poles should look like candy canes, and he's built the 'bot to do that.
When it comes to the urban landscape, parking-sign posts are about the most forgettable thing out there. But Tokyo roboticist Akira Hayasaka aims to give these structures some artistic flava, using a tiny machine that scribbles on them while scurrying upward like a frantic coconut crab.
Akira's "Tag the Pole" experiment takes assorted materials including an Xbee radio module, Arduino microcontroller, omnidirectional bearing and I.R. sensor and transforms them into Japan's littlest Terminator for tagging. The maker simply plants his machine around the base of a poll, and it begins to pull itself upward while rotating quickly around the circumference. Embedded markers trace spiraling lines around the pole, so that after several passes the metal is left looking like a candy cane painted by one of Santa's more tweaked-out elves.
The robot's progenitor, who has a pictorial chronicling the device's construction on his website, says that "I do not aim to break the law in any sense, and I do not want to. My purposes are to show that I (and we) have potentially plenty [of] power to reclaim the streets, and to resist tasteless urban gentrification/purification which always chokes me." In case you're wondering if his intervention constitutes criminal defacement, he adds, "FYI, the pole in the movie is my own property, not [a] public one." Phew!
Here's footage from the graffiti-bot's prototype phase. Get a bunch of these guys running at the same time, and you could make a city block look like a mob of crayon-wielding kindergarteners went wild on it: