Would you rather your tattoo artist be a robot or a human?
It's a serious question! Eventually, we're told, many traditionally human occupations could be replaced by automation, and if the work of one Auburn student is any harbinger, the tattoo artist could be one such victim of the so-called robotic revolution.
Luke Gehron is a student at Auburn University's architecture school, and he is creating a "Digital Tattoo Artist" machine that automates the process of getting a tattoo. First spotted by Hackaday, Gehron's 3D mapping software has been programmed to instruct a custom-built contraption where to do the needlework on a human arm.
Right now, Gehron is still working through the specifics of his machine, describing the construction process in great detail on his blog; when it is completed, the recipient of the tattoo would be able to design his or her tattoo on the computer and then the machine would draw exactly that on the forearm.
You can view Gehron giving himself a practice Mickey Mouse tattoo (with a marker, not a needle) below:
Gehron is attempting, in this not-yet-complete project, to reduce tattoo art to software and hardware, to a foolproof, roboticized algorithm. Hypothetically, if something like this could be achieved on a mass scale, you could eliminate the operator error that defines so many hilariously unfortunate tattoos.
Of course, as commenters on Hackaday are pointing out, the robotic tattoo artist has its own deficiencies: For one thing, it requires the tattoo-ee to stay completely still, without squirming, which, um, doesn't always happen. You also lose out on the artistry, calming touch and improvisational skill of tattooists.
In any case, Gehron's machine — and the awe-inducing automatic tattoo machine concepts of others, like Chris Eckert's Auto-Ink (below) — are still works in progress, so you have time (likely many years) to decide whether you prefer a human or humanoid as your tattooist. Until then, you can follow Luke Gehron's fascinating blog on the topic of building a digital tattoo machine here.