Would you let a robot give you a tattoo? This crazy French guy did

A team of students from well-known Paris design school ENSCI Les Ateliers had an idea that could change the face of tattooing. The team came up with the idea during a recent design challenge hosted by the French Ministry of Culture and worked with other ENSCI students and teachers to bring it to life. Their idea? An industrial robot that could autonomously create a tattoo from a database of images.

The idea was conceived as part of the Public Domain Remix, a workshop that encourages students to create new items using a mashup of public domain material. The students had 8 hours to come up with an idea and remix their material to create something new. After bouncing around a handful of common concepts, the team came up with the radical idea of a tattooing robot. They consulted with digital manufacturing expert Le FabShop who thought the idea was achievable and could be prototyped using the school’s hardware.

They started on their project during the one-day event, hacking a 3D-printer to draw on a person’s skin using a pen. The team wowed the crowd with their ink drawings and even impressed the Minister of Culture, who came in person to see the project. Thi success in such a short period of time encouraged the students to take the next step — creating a machine that would make real tattoos on actual skin.

The team worked on the tattooing robot in their spare team, seeking the assistance of other students and faculty members, who gladly lent their expertise. The team acquired a manual tattoo machine from a local tattoo artist and hacked the needle onto a 3d-printer. To begin testing their device, they started to tattoo everything — paper, fruit, artificial skin and even themselves. Early tattoos were focused on circles and basic geometric patterns designed to test the precision of the machine.

After a series of successful trials with a 3D-printer, the students then sought the help of the research team from the Applied Research Lab at Autodesk. The two groups took the tattooing robot to the next level by attaching the tattooing apparatus to an industrial robotic arm. Though tattooing fruits and fake limbs are fun, the team really wanted to test the machine with a human subject and test they did.

Finding a guinea pig for the human experiments was easy. There was mare than enough volunteers who wanted to become the first person tattooed by a robotic arm. Before the tattooing could begin, the team scanned the part of the body to be tattooed and then converted that information into a language that the robot could understand. Once the person’s leg was in place, the team held their breath as the needle-quipped robotic arm came down and pierced the skin of the subject to begin the process of tattooing. SO what this historic first tattoo? A simple spiral that looked fantastic.

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