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Robot lends a hand to speed up mosaic artwork production

Lauren Brousell | Dec. 9, 2014
You can hear the whirring of the robotic arm as you enter the office. They call it Arty, and it works nonstop all day, picking and placing colorful, smooth tiles into 12-by-12-inch squares. A worker stands behind Arty and feeds the tiles into the machine. Then he picks up each square when it's done to shake all the tiles into place.

Goodwin recalls a time when an installer called Artaic to say a section label had been put on the tile square upside down, causing them to install that particular square upside down. "We actually went back through our IT system and had the section labeled right there, photographed and everything," he says. "No matter what happened there, we were able to reproduce that [section] overnight and get the installation done."

What's Next for Artaic?

The company mostly produces designs that are made up of straight rows of tiles, but Artaic recently won a research grant from the National Science Foundation to work on software that creates designs that are freeform, with curves, where tiles are cut into specific shapes to fit a pattern.

Acworth is working on getting his next-generation robot to do work 10 or 20 times faster than a human, which he hopes will disrupt the mosaic manufacturing market. In other words, his company could be more competitive with a market like China that is able to produce mosaics cheaply using human workers.

"That gets us to price parity with made in China," Acworth says. "We could be competing at a cost structure you get by offshoring to China, but doing it in Boston, in the United States, with skilled people doing custom for our clients. That would be kind of an amazing tipping point for us."

 

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