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Google Art Projects Photographs Works At Art Institute

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A robot with 15 cameras in its head has been recording some of most important works at the Art Institute of Chicago for worldwide distribution, as part of the Google Art Project.

WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports the robot looks like a tall, skinny R2-D2, with a white frame topped by a black globe with 15 eyes.

It's been rolling through Art Institute galleries, putting what it sees on the Internet as part of Google's project to provide access to very high-resolution pictures of artwork.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports


Google president Margo Georgiadis said the robot – similar to the video "trolley" used for Google's Street View mapping feature – roamed the Art Institute and 150 other museums, recording whole galleries and works down to the brush strokes.

"We've moved from only 1,000 high-resolution images, to over 30,000; which allow you to see the finest brush stroke," she said.

According to Art Institute President Douglas Druick, the photos are of such high quality, viewers can see the individual dots in the pointillism masterpiece, "A Sunay Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," by Georges Seurat.

Google Art Project - The Art Institute of Chicago

"This is a picture that came together as the sum of its parts – a little dot of paint – and I think the more you understand what the microcosm is, the more you are fascinated by the way it became a macrocosm."

Project manager Ryan Falor explained the trolley had to know where it was going inside the museum without using GPS.

"We actually use a combination of laser scanners that … map out the walls for us. We use encoders on the wheels. We use a variety of sensors built into the system … so that later on we can process all that data and reconstruct what that museum looks like," Falor said.

Falor said the recorder is turning into a research tool.

"We recently did one on the Amazon River and we went to some of the tribal villages there, and imaged those locations in a similar way. We've actually also done the Antarctic."

The project has photographed 155 works at the Art Institute, by 125 artists – including "American Gothic," by Grant Wood; and "Nighthawks," by Edward Hopper.

Google picked the Art Institute to herald expansion of its project to put art on the Internet. So far, it has collected 30,000 high-definition images from 151 museums in 41 countries.

Google Art Project Director Peter Adamczek said he hopes one day the Vatican will agree to have its artwork posted in the electronic gallery.

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