T-mobile's 5G tattooing robot - an industry killer or a needed tool?

T-mobile Netherlands have released a promotional video in which a person gets a tattoo done remotely with the help of a 5G robot arm. We have asked several industry professionals for their opinion on the topic.

Blog author
Ink Public Team
August 18 2021

New technologies are now more than ever embracing 5G as an added feature. However, some companies embrace the 5G network even more and testing its capabilities. A prime example is T-mobile’s Netherlands that has released an advertising campaign that showcases a developed technology using a 5G network as a primary source to connect a robot arm with a tattoo artist. The robot art and the artist is in separate locations, yet the tattoo is done in real-time. Due to the low latency of 5G, the robot arm works in sync with the tattoo artist, leaving no time lag in between needle strokes. 

 

This new technology can lead to immense changes in the industry, especially during a pandemic. It may help connect tattoo artists with tattoo enthusiasts, leaving no frictional travel cost and easing any time lag. But is it all that good? Some might argue that it alters the connection between the artist and the client. It changes the experience by decreasing the tattoo culture that the customer is exposed to in the studio. There are several factors to consider when discussing a robot arm’s possible impact on the tattoo industry.

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The first ones come to no surprise - health, safety, and hygiene. If not done correctly, tattooing can cause scars and infections. Safety hazards are more than relevant to the 5G technology robot. In the case of real-life tattoos, professionals are there to control the environment as much as possible, making it safe and sterile for tattooing. When asked Michal Grabowski, one of the tattoo artists working in the industry, responded that they would “have no control who and how is sterilizing machine for the tattoo, <...> no control on how to prepare customers skin”. Kym Munster, a professional tattooist, has raised several concerns as well: “Is the customer to put a stencil on first? And prep their own arm first? Who’s going to set it up for then? Clean it and break it down after every single use?”. It is fair to say that for the robotic arm to be up to industry standards for health and hygiene, it has to give up the remote aspect to ensure the customer’s safety. 

 

Another concern is the usability of the robotic arm. A large aspect of tattooing is the tattoo environment and the close relationship between customers and tattoo artists. One would think that during the ongoing pandemic situation, this technology could be an industry savior, but the feedback seems to indicate the contrary. The tattoo artist Kym Munster has expressed that “I think a huge part of getting a tattoo is the full studio and customer/tattoo artist relationship. The intimacy, the personal element to getting each tattoo, would be tainted by removing that experience. During the pandemic, people who get tattooed have been missing this experience, the banter, the noise, and the studio environment. I honestly don’t think this is a viable replacement.” This shows that tattooing cannot just be stripped to the essentials of needle, ink, and skin. As Michal comments - “Tattooing is something more than a picture under the skin. It's the relationship between client and tattoo artist, which is verbal and nonverbal at the same time.“ 

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From a technological perspective, the robot arm’s execution may be seen as stripping compared to the tattooing results that are achieved when done face to face. The tattoo design shown in the promotional video is simplistic and relatively small. If the tattoo indicates the extent of what kind of tattoos can be achieved with this technology, it might be fair to say that it is limiting. The current tattoo world is full of different personal styles and techniques. Limiting them to only a few parameters would mean that only a few tattoo artists could work with their style through this machine. This renders tattooists who use hand-poked techniques, immense detailing, and more demanding styles unable to use the robotic arm at this stage of development. As Kym Munster notes, “<...>, it absolutely would not work for the style of work and intricate lining that I do in my pieces.“

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Response from The Southgate SG Tattoo & Piercing studio’s team concludes the discussion in the article pretty well: “Tattooing is painful as it is, to have it done with such technology and remotely won’t be comforting to the client and you can’t really judge how the skin would be taking it even with cameras. There are so many things that could go wrong, including technology. It takes away the whole experience of getting tattoos. Very impersonal. Art and industry killer.”

 

You can find the promotional video here

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