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An Industrial Robot Just Inked Its First Tattoo

Do not try this at home.
Screencaps via

Some may feel that robots and artificial intelligence are on the inevitable rise toward planetary takeover. Others have a more nuanced view that ranges from the enthusiastic to the cautious. Count artists Johan Da Silveira and Pierre Emm, partners in the design studio Appropriate Audiences, as two people firmly in the enthusiastic category. In the past, they've used 3D printers to create tattoos. Now, they're onto using complex robotics to ink some human flesh.


As part of an Autodesk artist residency, Da Silveira and Emm recently worked with Autodesk’s Applied Research Lab to create the "world's first" tattoo inked by a robot. They wanted to see, in their own words, “a big mean industrial robot doing this really subtle interaction with a human.” For them, it’s all about the intimate relationships that humans are likely to have in the future with machines.

“With tons of support from the Autodesk Applied Research Lab, we did the first ever tattoo by an industrial robot,” Emm tells The Creators Project. “This project is looking like it will include at the very least a Fusion 360 for designing the end effector (tattoo head) and Dynamo to help control the movement of the robot itself.”

To create the tattoo, Da Silveira and Emm used multiple inputs like generative drawing, coding, bitmap and vectors. They generated all the time in g-code (machine language), while creating the spiral in Autodesk’s Fusion 360 vector software. To link and pilot the robotic arm, Fanuc, they used a dynamo. When the robot began receiving the program from the computer it was then able to start tattooing the spiral pattern on Emm’s leg. The results, as can be seen in the video, are pretty impressive.

Apart from wanting to create an intimacy between human and machine, Emm and Da Silveira felt that people weren’t taking full advantage of industrial robotics technology. So they thought it was time to “reintroduce the human and reincarnate this technology.”


“It was very interesting to us to investigate the traditional art of tattooing which is practiced differently in various countries,” Emm says. “Equally, the fact that there is a lack of technological evolution in the tattoo industry over the past one hundred years interested us.”

The two wanted to bring existing tattoo art and practice into a relationship with coding and data visualization. More specifically, they wanted to create designed gradients along lines and new form while creating new references in the art of tattooing.

Emm says that with a robotic tattoo artist they can explore new connections with sound and tattooing at a distance. They can also investigate new types of tattoo drawings directly from a tablet by a machine, all with an interest in examining the question of new kinds of dexterity.

“To be tattooed by a robot represents for us the accomplishment of a step in the development of our process which we have worked towards,” says Emm. “Behind the machine is a lot of human involvement. The tattoo also represents the connection between the tool and the person piloting the machine. We work very hard on the question of hygiene and security to bring the process to the highest level possible.”

“Whether software or hardware, the problems involve many unknowns and therefore are equally challenging in a way,” he adds. “The body is full of surprises—there are no ‘flat’ parts to be found there.” See it in action below:


World's First Tattoo by Industrial Robot from Pier 9 on Vimeo.

Click here to see more work by Appropriate Audiences.


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