This machine etches graffiti for those in the distant future


Now you can leave messages for future generations by engraving them into ancient monuments.


Since the beginning of mankind, humans have sought out news to communicate stories. When language didn’t exist beyond grunts, our ancestors drew pictures on cave walls. As the power of language was gradually discovered, primitive attempts at using sounds paved the way for symbols, and later the formation of words, allowed messages to be passed onto descendants. As we look into the future, have you ever considered how you might communicate with your distant offspring — say 50,000 years from now? Well, German artist Lorenz Potthast has.

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To successfully leave a message for posterity, there are a number of things one must consider. Where will future humans be most apt to find it? Can it withstand the test of time? Will the characters and language be the same in thousand years? In an effort to navigate these quandaries, Potthast has devised what he calls a “positive vandalism machine,” for communicating with next generations. The device, which is called The Petroglyphomat, is a portable, computer-operated milling cutter that can pass along messages by etching them into ancient monuments.

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Powered by battery packs capable of lasting three hours, the easy-to-carry machine weighs just over 5.5-pounds. Petroglyphomat’s frame is comprised of stainless steel, while the rest is constructed using laser cut plastic. When ready for use, the machine can be mounted onto its desired area in one of two ways: It can be tied to a free-standing object with its two integrated belts, or it can be anchored into a flat surface with pre-drilled holes by using its four corner screws.

“The idea is to use long existing, important places which most likely will also exist for a long time in the future as infrastructure and expand them with a new communication layer,” Potthast explains. In order to accomplish this, the machine creates snapshots of our increasingly digitalized environment by converting pixel-based, iconographical symbols into modern stone engravings.

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The Petroglyphomat is controlled by a built-in computer via a mouse using a combination of Processing and Arduino. Through the machine’s interface, the user can select any black-and-white image (up to 64×64 pixels) from the screen. Once chosen, the soon-to-be engraved picture is forwarded to the Atmel based ‘duino and motor shield, where it is translated into control commands for the movement of its three motors.

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After extensive research in examining cave paintings dating back 40,000 years, Potthast found many still possessed some modern-day connotations. As a result, the artist programmed the Arduino with a series of familiar icons, such as the envelope symbol for mail.

“Every hole is the representation of a black pixel from the source image. For the actual engraving the drilling unit goes step by step and line by line through the precalculated matrix and drills the holes accordingly,” Potthast adds.

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While the positive vandalism machine may still be a concept, Potthast says he aspires to get it up and running in the wild soon. Interested in learning more? Head over to the project’s official page here.

2 thoughts on “This machine etches graffiti for those in the distant future

  1. Pingback: Rewind: 30+ abstract Arduino projects from 2014 | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

  2. Pingback: Here are some unbelievable projects to help celebrate Arduino Day | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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