T-Mobile used a 5G-connected robot to give someone a tattoo

The artist drew the design on a mannequin arm while a robot copied his motions with a needle on a real arm.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
5G remote tattoo

A tattoo is applied by a robotic arm being controlled via 5G.


T-Mobile is demonstrating just how useful its 5G network can be for remote robotic operations, this week applying a tattoo on someone's arm in the Netherlands. The "impossible tattoo" was needled into the skin by a robot arm being controlled by a tattoo artist in another location over T-Mobile's Dutch 5G network. Due to the low latency of 5G -- how quickly the network responds to the command someone gives it -- the tattoo was drawn in real time.

"The final tattoo was given after countless tests on an army of heroic vegetables and prosthetic skin samples," T-Mobile said Tuesday.

Dutch tattoo artist Wes applied the tattoo on Dutch actress Stijn Fransen for the experiment.

There were a number of steps that had to be accomplished on the way to inking this moment of tele-artistry.

"Firstly, we needed to work out how to track the tattoo artist's movements and detect when he was making contact with the surface of a fake practice arm and transmit this data over the 5G network," said Noel Drew, who built the tattooing robot arm. "Secondly, we had to develop a robotic platform that could receive this data in real-time and control the robot's movements in relation to the human arm. Thirdly, we needed to develop a deep understanding of the fine details of tattooing."

If you're wondering, the tattoo came out just fine, although it is pretty basic. It's another step along the way to remote robotic surgery.

Read more: The best 5G phones of 2020

5G tattoo

The finished product.