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Twelve Year Old Sylvia Todd Creates WaterColorBot
With the help of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories and a Kickstarter campaign, the WaterColorBot kit will be in production soon.
By Melissa Fassbender, PD&D - Filed Jul 24, 2013

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Sylvia Todd is launching her first Kickstarter campaign at the age of 12 after designing a painting robot. To make her idea a reality, Sylvia approached Lenore Edman and Windell Oskay at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories (EMSL), a Silicon Valley company that designs and produces specialized electronics and robotics kits. "I drew a few sketches of what I wanted my robot to look like and asked EMSL if I could come over to their shop for a week and make this bot,” Sylvia explains in a blog post. The three then collaborated to create the WaterColorBot.

“When I got [to EMSL] I thought that I would start immediately making the base to my bot, but instead we worked in inkscape making detailed drawings,” Sylvia adds. Creating the design in CAD, they were able to iterate quickly, and with access to a CNC router, laser cutters, and other tools, the first prototype was created in a week. However, even though the WaterColorBot is fairly similar to its original design, the fine tuning of individual components took several iterations. “We went through at least 20 iterations of the carriage that holds the brush,” says Edman.

The main chassis of the robot is cut from hardwood plywood using a CNC router, and the carriage and winches are built out of laser-cut wood. “Once we had a good set of drawings for my WaterColorBot we used the router to create the basic pieces of the bot and laser cut the carriage that holds the paintbrush. We also used dowel pins, screws, nuts, washers, and string to make a cool amazing bot,” Sylvia explains.

Recording the sketch in real time, or starting with vector artwork, the WaterColorBot is essentially a specialized pen plotter that uses a set of watercolors. To move the paint brush, there are two motors built into the frame. Each motor drives a winch which moves a cord attached to a rod that controls either the X or Y position of the brush. The robot connects to a computer via a USB port and the RoboPaint software is available for download off the internet.

The WaterColorBot comes as a kit, with some assembly required. The kit includes:

  • The chassis (already built).
  • The lower deck.
  • The carriage (already built) with integrated brush holder, brush-lift servo motor, and cable guide. 
  • Two precision stepper motors.
  • The EiBotBoard 2.0 USB motor controller (readymade).
  • USB Cable.
  • Universal input plug-in power supply (with U.S.-style plug).
  • A set of Crayola water colors with brush.
  • Five sheets of 9 x 12" watercolor paper.
  • Three polypropylene water dishes.
  • Winches, cord, and the X and Y guide rods.
  • Hex wrench and fasteners.
  • A quick start guide.

Manufacturing will take place at the EMSL in Sunnyvale, CA. With their experience in producing and shipping previous kits, they foresee no issues in being able to fill orders on time, to Kickstarter backers. With 23 days to go, the campaign has already raised $66,365, surpassing their goal of $50,000.

Ultimately, Edman hopes that the Kickstarter campaign for WaterColorBot will inspire young people to do things with technology. An inspiring role model, Sylvia also stars on her own show, Sylvia's Super-Awesome Maker Show, where she shows her viewers how they can "Just get out there and make something!" She has also been profiled in The New York Times, has been on the cover of Make Magazine, and has spoken atTEDx. She was even asked to exhibit the WaterColorBot at the 2013 White House Science Fair.

To support Sylvia and the WaterColorBot, visit

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