Gaka-chu: a self-employed autonomous robot artist

Eduardo Castello Ferrer

E. C. Ferrer, I. Berman, A. Kapitonov, V. Manaenko, M. Chernyaev and P. Tarasov, "Gaka-Chu: A Self-Employed Autonomous Robot Artist," 2023 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), London, United Kingdom, 2023, pp. 11583-11589, doi: 10.1109/ICRA48891.2023.10160866.


The physical autonomy of robots is well understood both theoretically and practically. By contrast, there is almost no research exploring their potential economic autonomy. In this paper, we present the first economically autonomous robot -- a robot able to produce marketable goods while having full control over the use of its generated income. Gaka-chu ("painter" in Japanese) is a 6-axis robot arm that creates paintings of Japanese characters from an autoselected keyword. By using a blockchain-based smart contract, Gaka-chu can autonomously list a painting it made for sale in an online auction. In this transaction, the robot interacts with the human bidders as a peer not as a tool. Using the blockchain-based smart contract, Gaka-chu can then use its income from selling paintings to replenish its resources by autonomously ordering materials from an online art shop. We built the Gaka-chu prototype with an Ethereum-based smart contract and ran a 6-month long experiment, during which the robot created and sold four paintings, simultaneously using its income to purchase supplies and repay initial investors. In this work, we present the results of the experiments conducted and discuss the implications of economically autonomous robots.

The research vision

Although the emergence of robotics is commonly acknowledged as one of the main disruptive changes that will have substantial socioeconomic impact in upcoming decades, many essential ingredients for robotics systems in the real world are not yet technologically ready for deployment. For instance, robots lack the security protocols required to prevent malicious agents from taking control and do not come with interfaces that are intuitive enough to explain their increasingly complex behaviors to a wide variety of users and operators.

Recent research has demonstrated the security and explainability benefits of combining autonomous robots with cryptographic methods such as blockchain-based technology. With this combination, robots are used as nodes in a blockchain network, and their interactions are encapsulated in cryptographic transactions.  However, an unexpected outcome of this combination is that robots can now have access to economic resources without the need to be incorporated in traditional business entities.

Previous literature has overlooked systems where the robots themselves directly “bear” the risks of the services they provide (i.e., running out of funds) but also “invest” the rewards (e.g., recharging batteries, paying for repairs, and eventually investing in self-upgrades) to reach a self-sustaining service. Historically, robots are seen as pure labor (e.g., in factories, assembly lines), but with new decentralized tools such as blockchain-based smart contracts, robots can also take part in other aspects of our economic environment, redefining their role as not mere tools but potential peers.

This research is the first time that economic autonomy has been shown with a real robot. It opens a debate not only about the concept of robot labor and financial autonomy but also whether these systems could become a new cornerstone of future economic activity, for example, funding a new type of universal basic income for humans through taxation of robot entrepreneurial activity.

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