Disney Research team builds robot that draws in the sand

The testudine Beachbot has a retractable rake that allows it to draw patterns in the sand.

The Beachbot robot, developed by Disney Research and ETH Zurich.

Robots are evolving rapidly — and now, they've finally drawn a line in the sand. Literally.

The Beachbot is a turtle-shaped robot that uses a retractable rake and a bevy of onboard sensors to draw elaborate lines and designs on sandy surfaces. As a prototype, the Beachbot still has a few bugs that need to be worked out, but its creators at the Disney Research labs say that it will soon be able to execute enormous designs that stretch across an entire beach.

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For now, Beachbot can only create designs within a 10 x 10-meter square area, which needs to be marked by four poles with reflective material on them.  With its onboard laser scanner, Beachbot will detect the poles and use them to determine the borders of its drawing area.

Because it's retractable, Beachbot's rake can create multiple lines, not just one continuous line. It can also be extended tine by tine to create lines of varying thickness, from five centimeters to 40 centimeters in width. The images released of Beachbot's creations show almost no trace of the robot's three wheels alongside its rake patterns.

The Beachbot was developed by a partnership between the Zurich labs of Disney Research and a team of students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). In addition to Beachbot itself, the team had to come up with software that could take an image and transform it into a motion path that Beachbot could execute.

Beachbot's cute turtle design also serves a functional purpose: It's completely sealed to stop any sand from getting into its inner workings.

"The robot will be deployed at a public beach to amaze beachgoers who pass by," the research team said in a press release. "Not only the final picture is important, the whole drawing process will provide an exceptional, magical show."

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can email Jill at, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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