A group of PhD students from the MIT Media Lab and researchers from Microsoft Research have come up with the ultimate wearable: a temporary tattoo that can turn into a touchpad, remotely control your smartphone, or share data using NFC.
The technology, which is described on MIT’s website, is called DuoSkin. The researchers say you can design a circuit using any graphic software, stamp out the tattoo in gold leaf (which is conductive to electricity), and then apply other commodity materials and components that would make the tattoo interactive.
The paper presents three key use cases for the tattoo: you could use it to turn your skin into a trackpad, design it to change color based on temperature, or pull data from the tattoo. In one photo shared by MIT the tattoo even includes LED lights, creating a kind of glowing display on the skin.
Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, PhD Student at the MIT Media Lab, says that metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos are a growing trend, providing a great opportunity for creating something that meshes with existing fashion while also adding genuinely useful functional capabilities. She notes that in Taiwan, there’s a “huge culture” of cosmetics and street fashion, which is affordable and accessible enough that “you can very easily change and edit your appearance whenever you want.” The DuoSkin team wanted to achieve the same thing with their technological twist on the tattoo trend.
As a result, the system is actually designed to be fairly inexpensive and easy to set up for just about anyone. It uses gold leaf, for basic conductivity, but otherwise employs everyday crafting materials like a vinyl cutter and temporary tattoo printing paper. You can use any desktop graphics creation software you like to design the circuit, then feed that design through the vinyl cutter, layer the gold leaf on top and apply it as you would a standard temporary tattoo. Small, surface mount electronic components including NFC chips complete the connectivity picture.
Kao ends by suggesting they’d like to see this tech come to tattoo parlours, so it’s easy for anyone to get connected ink. It’s definitely something that could further the use cases and value appeal of wearable tech as a category, especially among price sensitive customers.