Robot who paints ‘Ai-Da’ detained by Egyptian border police on suspicion of espionage

Ai-Da, a robot who can paint, was detained at the Egyptian border for 10 days ahead of a major exhibition in the country.

Ai-Da was set to present her work at the foot of the pyramids of Giza, in what is being billed as the first-ever art exhibition held in that historical area.

That show, titled “Forever is Now,” is an annual exhibition organized by Art D’Égypte, a multidisciplinary firm whose mission is to support the Egyptian art and culture scene. Ai-Da’s inclusion in the show was supposed to be the main highlight.

The trouble reportedly started when Egyptian officials noticed that Ai-Da had a modem and cameras for eyes. Because of the technology within the robot, officials grew concerned that the artist-robot may have been part of an espionage conspiracy.

The British ambassador to Egypt apparently had to work intensively to get Ai-Da out of detainment in time for the show.

Egyptian officials offered to exhibit the work with some of its gadgetry removed, but dealer Aiden Meller, Ai-Da’s creator, insisted that the robot’s cameras could not be taken out. Ai-Da’s eyes are an essential part of her–she uses them to paint. In the end Ai-Da was released hours before the show, and she was left intact.

Ai-Da was conceptualized by Meller and created in collaboration with Engineered Arts, a Cornish robotics company. She was completed in 2019.

Ai-Da is able to make art thanks to a specially designed hand and algorithms developed by researchers at Oxford and Leeds University.

The algorithm converts images Ai-Da captures with her camera-eyes into real space coordinates, and that data is then repurposed in the form of her drawings. And, because her makers allowed her to analyze colors and techniques used by human artists, Ai-Da can also paint.