A woman in the Netherlands has received a tattoo remotely by an artist that was more than 300 miles away in the UK. The tattoo was made possible with 5G cellular technology and the latest in robotics technology.
T-Mobile Netherlands and London-based technologist Noel Drew organized the project as part of a marketing campaign to demonstrate the power of 5G.
The tattoo artist, Wes Thomas, operated a robotic arm with a tattoo needle attached to create an abstract design on the arm of Dutch actress Stijn Fransen.
“The 5G tattoo may have been a world first, but it was [also] an authentic use of cutting-edge technology, combined with an ancient art, to tell a very human story,” Noel Drew said.
During a period of six weeks last year, Drew’s team at international design studio, The Mill, rigorously tested the technology for safety and accuracy. “Many butternut squash were harmed in the test cycle before it was refined and ready for reality,” he joked.
Wes worked closely with the engineers to refine the robot arm’s technique and advise on the unique aspects of using tattoo tools on human skin.
“Working with Wes was fascinating and terrifying at the same time,” Drew said. “There was so much more to consider.” There were also many aspects of tattooing Drew was unaware of, like the fact that tattoo needles are typically dipped in ink after each stroke. To replicate this movement would have been “a nightmare,” said Drew, whose team instead developed an alternative ink-reservoir system.
Another unique challenge was the effort to mimic how tattoo artists manipulate skin to get the cleanest, most precise lines. “The tattoo artist has a deep understanding of human skin, which changes hugely depending on the location on the body and also from person to person,” said Drew.
This was ultimately solved by artificially pulling Fransen’s skin taut with bandages, and strapping down her arm to the chair in case she was tempted to squirm.
“She was so unbelievably calm about the whole thing,” he added.
Drew also says he doesn’t expect this way tattooing to become the norm anytime soon.
“I wasn’t trying to replace traditional tattooing [or] the human aspect of tattooing with this robot-led concept,” he said. “I’ve been careful not to be seen as trivializing the art form, especially after getting such an understanding of it.”