“Motion Control” is an industry term for computer-controlled movement in applications like robotics and CNC.  This technology has revolutionized  industrial  production and design,  but until recently was extremely expensive and complex.

Combing your Zen garden with a rake is so 15th Century. So inventor Bruce Shapiro’s Sisyphus machine ditches the rake and uses steel balls, untouched by human hands and seemingly moving on their own, to carve the sand.

In a 21st century take on the traditional Zen sand garden, artist Bruce Shapiro invented the Sisyphus Machine, an elaborate kinetic drawing machine that uses magnets to drag rolling steel marbles through a thin layer of sand to create complicated mandala-like patterns. Shapiro, who was once a practicing physician, has spent the better part of 25 years experimenting with computerized motion control and many of his Sisyphus Machines have been installed in locations around the world including a large device in Switzerland back in 2003 and at Questacon in Canberra, Australia in 2013. It appears the artist is currently working on a tabletop consumer version and if you’re interested you can sign up for his mailing list here. (via Core77, Fast Company)


However he’s managed it, you’ve gotta love the machine’s name. “For the crime of cheating death,” the inventor writes, “Sisyphus must push his boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down each day. For all eternity.”

The balls aren’t moving on their own, of course. As for how he did it, we can only theorize by studying the photograph below. It seems to us that motion-control pioneer Shapiro has rigged up the underside of the table with a clever propellor-like arm that expands and contracts along its axis. By rotating, it can gain a full 360-sweep beneath the table’s surface. Unseen magnets embedded within the arm, on either side of the centerpoint, presumably control the dual balls’ motion. Once Shapiro’s designed his patterns, his programming and stepper motors take care of the rest.


Shapiro’s currently working on a smaller (roughly the size of a café table) version of the Sisyphus that it appears he may be preparing to sell. If you want to get onto the email notification list for it, click here.


Bruce Shapiro’s Mesmerizing Kinetic Sand Drawing Machines


About Art Selectronic

Art Selectronic is an artist-led initiative, that supports grass-roots contemporary art that remains unswayed by fashion, trends or the whims of government funding. The project involves ongoing research into the placing of contemporary art, it’s audiences and it’s relationship to the everyday. We place great emphasis on context. Our mission is to support new works of contemporary art and foster an audience from a wide range of backgrounds.
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