The Original Eggbot

How a classic maker project was hatched

Welcome to the third issue of the Make Things newsletter. I’ll skip the egg-related puns that come to mind.

Table of Contents

Dr. Shapiro’s Eggbot

People have been hand-painting eggs for a long time and in many cultures. Bruce Shapiro came up with idea to build a drawing robot that could draw patterns on eggs. An artist who lives in Minnesota, Bruce creates art using machines and Eggbot was his first art project, dating back to 1990.

“I grew up enchanted by music, electronics, and making things.  I pursued a career in medicine and spent several years as a practicing physician,” explains Bruce on his website. He left a career as a medical doctor to re-invent himself as an artist, somewhat to the surprise of his family and friends.

He was interested in “motion control” using computers to control stepper motors. In a 2008 Cool Hunting video, he describes a stepper motor as “breaking motion into discrete steps,” and he thought of each step as a “motion pixel.” He wondered: “what if by breaking motion into pixels, or pieces, artists could do the same thing with motion that they were doing on the screen.” His website is The Art of Motion Control. Eggbot is a 2D CNC machine, meaning it operates along the X and Y axes, but the machine must rotate the egg as the pen moves around to draw on the shell.

The thing I will always remember about creating the first Eggbot in 1990 is that it was an act of desperation. After months of experimenting and library visits, I had finally figured out how to control a stepper motor. I was so excited that I invited everyone I knew to a demo in my shop -- which consisted of two steppers with a piece of tape sticking out from their shafts, doing a lame semaphore flag "dance." 

Because I'd recently left my medical practice to pursue art (and more time with my kids), I was pretty sure everyone suspected I might be losing my mind. The demo confirmed it.

They thought that what he was doing was crazy and he was crazy to leave his medical career behind to do it.

It was my first realization (but certainly not last) that no matter how excited I get by the promise I see in motion control as a new art medium, it doesn't at all mean others will share it. I guess convincing them is my job as an artist.

Easter was coming in a few weeks and I'd promised to help the kids color their eggs.  But mostly, I needed some evidence I wasn't entirely nuts. 

In 2006, Bruce along with his wife, Bev, came to the very first Maker Faire in San Mateo and brought Eggbot along with other projects. “The whole thing was so amazing,” he recalls. There, he met Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories’ Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman (and Bre Pettis who worked for Make). “EMSL's 3D sugar printer bonded me to them instantly,” he said. “My wife recalls (fondly) how incredibly exhausted / elated we were as we packed up our car and headed out on Sunday evening.”

Eggbot station at first Maker Faire Bay Area in 2006. (photo by Bruce Shapiro)

To create an egg painting, the user creates an image in Inkscape and downloads it to the machine, which translates it into instructions to control the motors and the pen to draw on the egg. In 2009, Bruce created the first version of a kit, which had a custom board and acrylic case. Here’s a demo video of that first kit version.

In 2010 Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman of Evil Mad Science Labs worked with Bruce to produce a new and improved kit, dubbed Eggbot 2.0, which we covered in an article in September 2010. The frame was made out of the sturdy material used for circuit boards, a decision by Windell’s that Bruce called “brilliant.”

One never quite knows what people will do with their own Eggbot. Daniel Newman used his EMSL Eggbot rotary plotter to print an accurate nutrition label on the side of a raw egg. (link)

Sadly, Eggbot is no longer available. Bantam Tools acquired Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories in January of this year, and Windell and Lenore went to work with Bre Pettis. Their stated goal is to “create the next generation of art and handwriting machines.” This week, Bre Pettis wrote "Programming Art without Formal Training“ on Medium.

“Lenore and Windel let me know a while ago,” said Bruce. “I'm happy for them and wish them the best on their new adventure.” Since around 2016, Bruce has been working on Sisyphus, a kinetic art table that draws patterns on sand. He raised money on Kickstarter to produce them commercially and formed a company, Sisyphus Industries.

“As for Eggbot, I have mixed feelings,” said Bruce. “It will always be my firstborn. I handed off Eggbot a long time ago. But for me it was never about "Eggbot," or "Sisyphus" or any specific creation.” It was about exploring the art of motion control as a medium.

The original Eggbot is dead. Long live the Eggbot.

EMSL provided open source instructions for Eggbot on GitHub. One can find many Eggbot knockoffs online as well as alternative DIY projects for drawing on an egg.

Naturally Dyed Eggs

Agnes Niewiadomski of likes to make eggs the usual way — dying them, and in an even more old-fashioned way using natural dyes. In her 2015 article for our website, Agnes writes:

Creating naturally dyed eggs is not simple or instant like artificially dying eggs, it is a ritual that takes time and practice and skill. It is full of opportunity for experimentation and lessons, it is indeed home science!

She says that red cabbage produces the most dramatic results. Here are some of her example with notes.

The notes are a little hard to read the handwriting but red cabbage is used for the three eggs on the left; the top two are white eggs and the third is brown. Red onion, grape juice and turmeric were used on the right, with white eggs first and third. The vegetables mixed with white vinegar and eggs are left to soak as long as overnight.

A few years ago, I tried creating my own dyes for Easter eggs — blue, yellow and brown. I thought that they turned out pretty well.

Dyed Eggs (photo by Dale Dougherty)

Makey This Way

Maker Faire Lynchburg was a success. One thing we spotted (via Instagram) was their use of the Makey design for directional arrows. A stencil was used to paint the image on the sidewalk.

Maker Faires in April

A reader asked for a list of Maker Faires. We do publish the list in the Maker Faire newsletter but I can share it again here. I’m happy to see Maker Faires on each weekend in April.

I will be attending LA Maker Faire on Saturday, April 6th at Los Angeles Historical Park. I’m looking forward to seeing the organizers from the LA Public Library and meet new makers.

Maker Faire Yearbook

If you are looking for inspiration, or just want to be amazed by the things people make, check out our new 2023 Maker Faire YEARBOOK! It’s a catalog of thousands of maker projects from over one hundred Maker Faires around the world in 2023.

I’d love to hear from you if you have ideas, projects or news items about the maker community. Email me - [email protected].