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I tried the AI robot massage table coming to Equinox. It's impressive, but I still prefer a human.

Ana Altchek trying out Ai massage chair
Business Insider
  • Equinox is getting an AI massage table this summer and it's the first of its kind to launch in the US.

  • The atmosphere and massage itself were solid, but the pressure was a little high at times.

  • The massage costs $60 and you can book a table through the Aescape app.

I come from a family of massage enthusiasts.

My grandmother owned a spa in Paris and my siblings and I grew up getting lessons on massage techniques and nerve terminals. I've tried high pressure, low pressure, deep tissue, hot stone — you name it.

So naturally, I had to test out the new Aescape AI massage that Equinox is adding to its New York City locations in June. It's the first fully automated, customizable massage experience available commercially in the US, with two long robotic arms that massage you in tandem.

CEO Eric Litman founded Aescape in 2017 in search of a remedy for his own chronic pain. The company has since received $80 million in funding and is looking to install its tables at major hotel chains, wellness clubs, and spas in the coming months and years.

Its first table launched Wednesday at PRESS Massage in New York City. PRESS founder and massage therapist Rachel Beider, who also helped develop the table with Aescape, said she would love to see the tables at all four of the spa's locations in the city.

Aescape's table isn't like the massage chairs you might find at a nail salon or wellness shop. You're physically being massaged by two arms — they're just robotic — and the table includes a screen that tracks the whole experience digitally.

It's a less obvious example of AI hardware. Physical machines powered by AI take a wide range of forms, from humanoid robots, like OpenAI-funded Figure-01, to smaller gadgets designed to interact with AI directly, like Humane's Ai Pin.

How it all works

To book a massage, you can use Aescape's companion app and select a table in your area. The massage costs $60 a session and you don't need to be a member at Equinox to use the table once it launches.

I tried it out at Aescape's headquarters in New York City.

The table is located in a dimly lit room with a large dresser, mirror, and robotic massage table in the center.

AI massage table
Aescape's massage table at its headquarters in New York City.Ana Altchek

I changed into a gray set of Aerware. The outfit is tight and sleek with a futuristic aesthetic and Aescape logo on the top. The outfit will be available in different sizes at each location, and you can buy your own too.

Ana Altchek at AI massage table
The tight gray leggings set creates a frictionless experience. Aescape

I grew up getting massages on just about every flat surface my grandmother could find, so laying in a towel doesn't phase me. But if you don't like getting undressed for a massage, I definitely recommend trying out this version.

Litman said there are a lot of Americans who don't want a massage because they don't want to be touched. For those people, this offers a way to relax and stretch out tense areas in a more comfortable setting.

Once you lay down and position yourself, the table takes a scan of your body using 1.1 million 3D data points to map your position on the table and identify the parts to perform the massage.

Ai massage scan Ana
An AI scan of my body.Ana Altchek

I tried the 30-minute Total Back and Glutes massage, which is so far the only massage available at PRESS, but Aescape spokesperson Molly O'Connor said there will be 20 different massage options available by the summer. Eventually, the touchscreen interface will also be able to recommend massages based on user preferences.

Once the massage started, I was able to see everything that was happening on the screen, including the order of the massage, how long each area would take, and where the sensors were working at that moment.

You can also pause the massage at any point, skip certain parts, or press a red button on the top of the screen if you want to completely stop the session.

As the massage is happening, you can see where the sensors are moving. Aescape's CEO said the table will soon have a feature that will allow you to target certain areas by selecting them on the screen.

Highlights — and lowlights

One of the best parts of the massage was the different display features and music options. I chose to look at a rainforest, but there were multiple other options like waves or snow.

AI massage table display
I liked to look at the rainforest display while I was getting the massage. Ana Altchek

The touchscreen also had a wide range of playlists available. So if you wanted, you could listen to Drake's latest album — or Frank Sinatra, depending on your vibe. I liked the nature sounds best.

The heated massage sensors — the parts of the robot that make contact with your body — were another highlight. Last year, I went to an overpriced spa in Paris and spent the full hour with goosebumps down my body. Despite asking the masseuse to turn up the temperature multiple times, it didn't get warmer and it ruined the experience.

Ana trying out Ai massage table
Mid-massage at Aescape.Aescape

Temperature can completely transform a massage so being fully clothed and having a heated touch was nice.

Another perk is that you get both the left and right sides of your body worked on at the same time — a difficult task for a human. I got a massage in Colombia in January and the therapist sat on top of me to achieve the same goal. I was fine with it, but not everyone might be.

For the most part, the technology was seamless. But I did notice that sometimes the Aerpoint's location was a little off. At one point, the screen showed one of the sensors in the right quadrant of my back, but it was on the edge of my spine.

The pressure was also a bit high at times. I don't mind high pressure, but in some areas of my back, it was too intense. The screen has a slider to control the pressure depending on your preferences. For some reason, when I tried to decrease the pressure to the lowest scale, it still felt really forceful on my upper back.

This was during the "elongate" section of the massage. The other parts were fine.

Massage therapists shouldn't be too worried

This technology might grow in popularity, but I don't see it replacing the human version.

Beider said that this technology will help meet the demand for customers as massage centers face major shortages.

"A lot of people didn't go to school during COVID, a lot of folks didn't graduate," Beider said. "We've always been a bit short-staffed, but now it's even worse."

Beider also said Aescape's massage table isn't an option for everyone. Pregnant women and people with injuries or sensitive areas would be better off working with a human masseuse who can accommodate their specific needs, she said.

Litman also emphasized its use for people who need on-demand massages on a regular basis, like weekly or multiple times a week. The CEO told BI that eventually, the app will be like a Resy or Uber. It will show you all the tables nearby and you'll be able to immediately book a massage.

There are definitely parts of getting a human massage that I didn't miss, like asking the therapist to increase the temperature or move on to a different area. In a setting so intimate and vulnerable, these moments can be awkward even for a massage snob like myself.

But I do like the experience of laying under a blanket and letting someone else take care of me for an hour.

The Aescape screen
Aescape

Aescape's experience is still relaxing and it feels good — which is the purpose of a massage. But the option to control so many aspects does take a little bit away from the experience of completely disconnecting.

I also like the oils and lotions at a regular massage, but if you're in a rush, this is a more efficient option because you don't need to rinse off after

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