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These guys hacked a 3D printer and turned it into a high-precision tattoo machine

Adapting 3D printers to do things other than their intended purpose isn’t necessarily a new idea, but that doesn’t make this autonomous tattooing robot any less awesome. By attaching a standard tattoo needle head to a Makerbot 3D printer, the French design studio Appropriate Audiences has created an incredibly precise tattooing robot that can adapt any image inputted to its software into a tattoo-ink printable design – just insert body part.

The robotics of the machine allow the needle to automatically create any design on the skin at up to 150 punctures per second, executing highly repetitive action in much the same way a traditional 3D printer does. Appropriate Audiences says that their biggest challenge was finding a way to enable the printer to register the natural texture of human skin and the curvature of whatever body part is being tattooed. To make this possible, the machine’s custom-designed needle attachment includes a sensor that allows the robot to trace body contours and curved surfaces, without sacrificing precision artwork or needle safety.

Originally, the idea for the tattooing robot was born out of the Public Domain Remix workshop organized by the French Ministry of Culture at world-renowned design school ENSCI Les Ateliers. The idea was to use images, videos, and sound fallen in the national public domain and use them in a sort of ‘Mashup’. In eight hours, the Appropriate Audiences team created a robotic machine that could autonomously create and ink real tattoos on real skin. When they learned that their theoretical idea was actually feasible in sponsor Le FabShop’s digital manufacturing facilities, the team set out to make the tattooing robot a reality.

Initial tattoo testing was conducted on an artificial skin-like surface made from silicone. Since skilled tattoo artists often train on artificial surfaces or even pig skin before moving onto human canvas, it seems like Appropriate Audiences had the right idea. The first tattoo that the robot ever inked on a human was a simple circle, but the Appropriate Audiences team believes that precision artwork like portraits and intricate designs will soon be an attainable goal for the tattooing robot.

While some of the world’s most talented tattoo artists are incredible designers in their own right, the Internet’s collection of unfortunate and cringe-worthy tattoos still somehow grows. It may be questionable design choices from customers or just a few bad eggs in a pool of talented artists, but Appropriate Audiences’ robotic tattoo machine could potentially put an end to the problem once and for all.

Chloe Olewitz
Chloe is a writer from New York with a passion for technology, travel, and playing devil's advocate. You can find out more…
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