Robotic Zen Garden Stage 0:

The Robotic Zen Garden Stage 0: The Idea


The idea is a Zen Garden that maintains itself and that changes based on the pseudo-random nature of a robot’s moments on its surface. Over time the Zen garden changes and the likely hood of the same pattern emerging in any given window of time is incredibly small. The robot tirelessly (as long as it has power) tends its garden combing and re-combing the sands while gracefully moving around the walls.
I myself am not an artist. I am a hacker, a programmer, and comp sci major. To me there is art in that, in the elegant solution and clever code, but this is not an art project, it is a robotics and programing one.

A wooden box, dimensions are not important at this stage, inside the box sand is placed and along with it a robot that roves around in a pseudo-random nature. It has a comb attached to it so that as it moves over the sand, the sand is raked in a manor similar to traditional Zen Gardens.

Several people I have talked to about this idea have said something to the effect of, robots aren’t Zen. I would say that robots are Zen, very very Zen. They act entirely in the moment, executing one command at a time per CPU core. This is a rather watered down interpretation of Zen, but this is an engineering and programing project, not a philosophical or religious project, so it will do for now.

Before I go further, let me lay out a few “Rules”. I would like to maintain a degree of control over this project in that, I don’t want anyone profiting off of it with out my direct consent. If you do something cool with it I’d love to know, also if you build one, please don’t try and pass it off as your own. Pretty much standard open source stuff I know but I want to reiterate it here. Other than that, feel free to contact me with any questions or ideas relating to the project.

The Box:

In my mind the box is made from a base of plywood with 2×4’s nailed to it to form the “walls”, the walls being 4in in this case. This then gives us an outside width of 28in (interior width of 24in) and an outside length of 36in (interior length of 36in) this gives an interior area of 864in squared and a volume of 3456in cubed. That is enough room for a moderately sized robot and around 1 to 1½ inches of sand in the box. The wood would be sanded and then painted a flat black, and an optional acrylic sheet could be affixed to the top to turn the whole thing into more of a coffee table.

The Robot:

The robot will be built around the Arduino platform. I have used the Propeller platform before and have more experienced with it, but the Arduino is cheaper and more widely available, also the number of plug and play shields make it very easy to prototype with it. That said I do absolutely LOVE the multi-core aspect of the Propeller platform, and the ability to run multiple sections of code concurrently, or as close to it as can be done, from a programing standpoint I feel that this makes the code simpler to craft and understand even as it becomes more complex.

Basic setup would be:

  • Arduino → Ardumoto shield → Motors → gear box → Two drive wheels
  • Arduino ↔ touch sensor, push button with a section of coat hanger attached
  • Third wheel is not attached and used for stability
  • Comb is attached between the two sets of wheels

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