A Dutch telecoms company has given us a glimpse of the world’s first robot tattoo artist. Linked by 5G to an actual artist, the technology shows what might soon become commonplace, but can the human touch really be replaced?
But T-Mobile Netherlands recently used its 5G network to facilitate the world’s first robot-applied tattoo. In a video posted to YouTube last week, Dutch actress Stijn Fransen had her arm strapped in place while tattoo artist Wes inked a basic design onto her forearm.
What made this tattoo special was that Wes wasn’t even in the same building as Fransen. Instead, he worked on a mannequin in his studio, as a robotic arm copied his movements in precise detail. Fransen was left with a permanent testament to the power of 5G, which allowed the massive amounts of data necessary for the operation to be transmitted.
T-Mobile asked the creative technologists at The Mill to construct the robot, a process that took several months, and a lot of trial and error. The team’s chief concern was ensuring that the robot tattoo artist would copy Wes’ movements to the millimeter, and wouldn’t simply jab the needle into Fransen’s helpless arm below.
“The final tattoo was given after countless tests on an army of heroic vegetables and prosthetic skin samples,” a T-Mobile spokesman said last week.
After the success of this trial run, it’s tempting to think that robots might one day replace the human tattoo artist, especially if concerns over face-to-face contact outlast the current coronavirus pandemic.
Hell, you might even be keen to volunteer your virgin skin for one of these robotic artists.
Think Before You Ink
But the technology has a long way to go before it can beat the experienced hand of a real-life artist. We spoke to Yvonne Tracey, a professional tattoo artist, and she told us that there’s more to the process than simply putting a needle to skin.
“It’s not just the machine that’s important,” she said. “When I’m tattooing, I’m using my other hand to stretch the skin, wipe it down, and dab it with vaseline.”
“I can also feel the vibration of the machine with this hand, and that tells me how deep the needle is going, and how much resistance the skin is putting up. Everyone’s skin is different, and the only way to know this and work with it is to be there in person.”
However, as Noel, a technologist with The Mill, says in the ad, “it’s less about the tattoo. It’s less about the robot arm. It’s about enabling new possibilities.”
Wirelessly-connected robot arms may be a long way away from replacing the traditional tattoo artist. Even if technology were refined and wireless tattooing became the done thing, would you volunteer to go under the needle? Let us know on social media.
Featured Image: T-Mobile Nederland