Drunken benders of the late 21st century will no longer end up at the dockside parlor, at the mercy of a hairy biker named Earl if the software giant Autodesk has its way. Instead, they’ll end at an automated kiosk, where a tattoo gun robot will inscribe the design of your choosing with 100% accuracy, without another human in sight.
Created at Autodesk’s Pier 9 Artists In Residence program in collaboration with French design team Appropriate Audiences, this robotic tattoo artist is made from a modified 3D printing robot arm. Instead of dolloping out a squirt of melted filament to slowly print a physical object, the arm pierces skin according to the pattern dictated by a computer, while simultaneously washing the wound in an ink bath to make the design permanent.
To perfect the technique, Autodesk and Appropriate Audiences practiced on a fake leg. The reason the robot is able to puncture the skin without, say, ripping someone’s leg in half is because the leg is 3D scanned beforehand, giving it an accurate idea of exactly how deep the needle can go before it starts squirting ink into bone marrow.
To a needle-squeamer like yours truly who wouldn’t get a tattoo in a million years, even if I didn’t think they were universally stupid, which I do, watching this footage is about as techno-dystopian as a Harlan Ellison sci-fi story: I Have No Taste And I Must Tattoo A Butterfly On My Coccyx, perhaps.
But Autodesk is already talking about open-sourcing the technology. And there are reasons to entrust your tattoo to a robot over a human. A robot can reproduce a design with total accuracy, while humans–er–often can’t, to put it mildly. What is lost in “artistry,” you gain in accuracy. Once tattoos can be performed by robots, you open up all sorts of business opportunities too, like software stores where you download designs.