Mosaic techniques are thought to be as old as the ancient ziggurats of Mesopotamia—and equally as labor intensive. “In the early history of mosaic production, artists would design and slaves would implement,” says Paul Reiss, co-founder of Boston-based mosaic fabricator Artaic. As it happens, the modern term robot is derived from the ancient Slavic words for drudgery and slavery. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone—in this case, Artaic—built a labor-saving robot that automates the assembly of mosaics. After juror Lawrence Scarpa deemed this project a “natural” application of existing robotic technology, he asked, “Why didn’t I think of that?” In 2007, Artaic began developing software and a robotic arm to automatically—and quickly—assemble tile mosaic walls and floors based on any image. The designer or client begins by selecting or generating a digital image along with the desired tile palette. Artaic’s software then translates the image into pixels that will correspond to each physical mosaic tile of a given color and size. Similar to painting by numbers, the robot in Artaic’s shop picks up and positions the corresponding, individual mosaic tile into a square-foot grid. With a placement rate that Artaic claims can exceed one tile per second, the feed system for the automated tile assembly “is a tricky, interesting beast,” juror Bill Zahner said.
The square-foot grids are turned into mosaic tile sheets, which are then shipped to the project site and assembled into the full, seamless image. Producing the tiles for a mosaic mural at Iowa State University measuring 75 feet long by 18 feet tall took about two weeks, according to the company.
The visual complexity of an Artaic mosaic is limited only by the size and color of the individual mosaic tiles available. The company currently offers tiles in three types of glass, plus stone and unglazed porcelain. Most come as half-inch or 1-inch squares, although the vitreous glass tiles come as small as 3/8-inch square. Designers have no shortage of color options for the glossy- or matte-finished tiles: about 50 hues for each type.
To see all of the winners of the 2013 R+D Awards, click here.
Project Innovative Mosaic
Design Firm Artaic, Boston
Primary Investigator Paul Reiss (co-founder and creative director)
Research and Design Team Ted Acworth (founder and CEO), Blake Goodwin (director of operations)