Robot Tattooists?

by Andrea Darby - Master Medical Tattooist & Industry Educator
Robot Tattooist

I can remember as a child being captivated by the idea that one day we would have robots performing routine menial tasks for us, just imagine a robot that prepared a meal, poured the wine and then washed the dishes.

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During my youth I even dabbled in some amateur robotics making some makeshift devices out of bits a pieces that were lying around, some of the contraptions were safe others not so, but all were fun to create and some even served a useful purpose.

Robotics have now become pervasive particularly in manufacturing and now we do have some robotic servants performing small tasks in our homes such as vacuuming the floor, cooking an egg or making coffee and now almost everyone can afford an automatic dishwasher. Robots are everywhere they can even be found in the operating theatre, robots are serving us just perhaps not in the form that I had imagined during my youth.

Many jobs within manufacturing industries have been completely replaced by robots and predictions are that this trend will continue with many industries integrating robotic devices into the workflow to automate tasks and speed up the efficiency and accuracy of the tasks normally performed by human workers. Of course we all know that there are some occupations that can never be replaced by robotics particularly those that involve complex, precise, or artistic tasks such as tattooing right?

Think again because Paris design studio Appropriate Audiences has modified a 3D printer by adding a tattoo device to create an automated tattooing printer that can create a precise replication of a simple body art tattoo.

Yes they really have created a robot tattooist!

Tatoué as he is affectionately called is the love child produced from the union of a Makerbot 3D printer and a small handheld a tattoo device that operates at a skin penetration speed of up to 150 times per second. Software produced by Autodesk was utilised to downloaded digital tattoo designs to the machine, you simply insert the a limb of a willing subject into the printer and the chosen design is tattooed into their skin.

The designers say that 'The idea of our machine is to give tattoo artists a new tool that offers plenty of new possibilities.'

No doubt that there will be technicians who will think of a range of different ways to use an automated tattoo robot within their salons, but we can also envisage the invention leading to a stand alone tattoo booth without the need for trained tattooist operating inside a hair salon or beauty salon.

The tattoo hand piece and needle replaces the part of the 3D printer that would normally extrude plastic to make solid objects and a sensor scans the skin surface so that the needle can respond to changes in skin topography to make allowances for changes to the shape and size of the limb.

Designers Pierre Emm, Piotr Widelka and Johan Da Silveira met at Paris design school ENSCI les Ateliers and later founded their design studio Appropriate Audiences. Tatoué was created as a result of a workshop organised by the ENSCI design school back in October 2013 which invited students to make use of digital material that was already available in the public domain and to use it to create something innovative. Le FabShop a French 3D-printing company attended their workshop and provided expert assistance to the students develop their idea for a machine that could create tattoos from digital images.


'Anything you want can be designed on the computer and replicated onto the skin.'

The developers are attempting to develop the software into something that is more user-friendly for tattoo artists.

The designers said 'A lot of people were excited by the idea of being the first human tattooed by a robot' however the first design to be tattooed was simply a circle which the designers felt was the perfect shape to test the accuracy of the device. Since their first test the designers have been working towards creating more sophisticated robots that are capable of recreating more complex designs and hopefully tattooing other areas of the body.

There might be medical applications or applications in other industries for their invention but currently their focus is attempting to develop a robot which can tattoo any design on any part of the body. Tatoué was showcased in Paris recently at Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt in an exhibition on the future of design and engineering all part of the Autodesk Gallery Pop-Up.

The possibility of a tattoo vending machine in the future does not seem so far fetched?

The developers of Tatoué have been working closely with traditional tattooists exchanging ideas and information in order to refine their design into something that matches their tattoo styles and methods.

Oh the Pain!

Fortunately Tatoué is a lot smarter than some of the bubble headed booby robots from the past, the only questions remaining are will robotics ever be capable of replacing the tattooist completely and will tattoos provided by a robot be more or less painful?


Original publication date: 28/10/2014

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