Each day across the globe we trust robots to perform a variety of different tasks in factories, warehouses, workshops, laboratories, healthcare facilities and homes.
We even trust them to perform delicate and often complicated medical procedures.
But are you brave enough to let a robot give you a tattoo with no human help in sight?
A woman in the Netherlands has put her complete faith in a specially programmed cobot and received a tattoo remotely by an artist more than 480km away in the UK.
The “world first” procedure was made possible with 5G cellular technology and the latest in robotics using a UR5E collaborative robot from Universal Robots.
The futuristic stunt was organised by T-Mobile Netherlands and London-based technologist Noel Drew as part of a marketing campaign to demonstrate the power of 5G.
London ink artist Wes Thomas was enlisted to operate the robot add-on, with tattoo needle attached, to reproduce one of his abstract designs onto the inner forearm 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,” Drew told PCMag earlier this month.
To achieve a successful outcome, every component of the operation had to be specially designed and manufactured.
Watch this tattoo artist apply ink remotely with the help of a robot and 5G
For more than 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.
Thomas 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,” said Drew, who admitted he no previous experience with tattooing procedures.
For example, he was unaware that tattoo needles have to be dipped in ink after each stroke.
To replicate this movement would have been “a nightmare,” he says. So the team instead developed an alternative ink-reservoir system.
‘She was unbelievably calm’
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,” says 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 adds.
Drew also stressed that he does not consider robotic tattooing to become the norm anytime soon, or possibly ever.
“I wasn’t trying to replace traditional tattooing (or) the human aspect of tattooing with this robot-led concept.
“I’ve been careful not to be seen as trivialising the art form, especially after getting such an understanding of it.”
The scientist also sat in the “hot seat” to get his own ink, as a “souvenir” from the project.
“It’s the symbol for an incandescent light bulb,” he said, “an appropriate crossover between technology and creativity, even if some people do think it’s a Pokémon reference.”