Prokop Bartoníček

Robot That Sorts Random Stones By Geological Age Is A Work Of Art

Considering how long humans have been making machines to increase the efficiency of tasks, it's amazing that we don't have machines that do absolutely everything we could possibly imagine yet.

Obviously there are tasks that just aren't suited to automation, like researching a cure for cancer or responding to the scene of a fire. Sorting out rocks by geological age is not only the kind of task you'd think would be meant for robots, but somebody actually made a machine to do it, and it is, quite honestly, a work of art.

Jller is a machine that does just that, sorting and arranging river rocks by their geological age.

Instagram | @prokop_bartonicek

This unlikely machine is the brain child of Czech artist Prokop Bartonicek and German artist Benjamin Maus. They shared an interest in industrial automation and historical geology, and their research led them to the creation of Jller, named after the river in Germany they took the pebbles from.

Of course, it begs the question: how the heck does it even work?

Prokop Bartoníček

How can a machine do something like that? It's an incredibly complicated thing even for human hands to do — to take an array of random stones and figure out which is the oldest, then the next oldest, and next oldest, and so on, and arrange them in order.

Thinking of that, it's little wonder that a geologist might want a machine like that to do it for them.

So, here's how it works.

Instagram | @prokop_bartonicek

There's a computer eye that scans the stones for things like color, color composition, lines, layers, patterns, grain, and surface texture, all of which tell the tale of where the stone came from, and how it had been ground down and smoothed out over time.

"This data is used to assign the stones into predefined categories," Bartonicek wrote. "Those categories represent the range of stones that can be found in the specific river and correspond directly to the age of the stone. They are the result of a classification system that is trained by sets of manually selected and labeled stones. Because there are only a limited number of stone types that can be found in a specific river, this system proves to be very accurate."

The other question, of course, is why anyone would need to arrange river rocks in their geological order.

Instagram | @prokop_bartonicek

And, at its simplest level, it's all about getting a visual impression of a river's history.

"Some come from rocks, that are the result of erosions in the Alps and are carried in from smaller rivers," Bartonicek explained. "Other stones have been ground and transported by glaciers that either still exist, or existed in the ice ages. As the Alps and flats, that were once covered by glaciers, have shifted, even deeper rock-layers were moved and as a result, stones from many geologic periods make their way into a river. When the history of a river is known, the type of stone can be directly related to its geological age."

Whether you're interested in geology or not, it's pretty cool to watch Jller in action.

You don't need to be the sort of person who has Hank from Breaking Bad saying "They're minerals, Marie," as their ringtone to appreciate watching Jller pick up pebbles and place them in their rightful geological order. It's actually quite soothing.