Tech tattoos turn into input devices, thanks to Microsoft and MIT

Permanent jewelry and body art are usually from a time in life when one wants to express themselves. But the purpose behind these things may be changing in the future with a new bit of emerging technology. Thanks to recent researches, tattoos can now serve a functional purpose as well.

PhD students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Labs, along with scientists from Microsoft Research, have come up with a special kind of tattoo that not only looks good, but it can also be programmed to function according to the user’s needs.

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Called DuoSkin, this futuristic tattoo looks a lot like today’s jewelry tattoos but is embedded with circuitry that makes it interactive. It can be used as an input-, an output-, or communication device, depending on what the user wants the DuoSkin to be.

The DuoSkin fabrication process starts by sketching the desired skin circuitry with any kind of graphic design software. Once that’s ready, the next step is to create stencils of the circuitry and apply gold leaf as a conductive material, then finally mount the electronics.

DuoSkin fabrication process
DuoSkin fabrication process

Applying DuoSkin is as easy as putting on a temporary tattoo. Place the transfer paper on your skin, damp the back of the transfer paper with a sponge or cloth, then wait for a few seconds before lifting the transfer paper. The DuoSkin tattoo will be left on the skin if the transfer is successful.

Users can link the tattoo to their mobile devices and use the tattoo to control them. The tattoo can turn your skin into a trackpad, change color based on things like temperature, as well as be used to instantly share information.

DuoSkin as input device
DuoSkin as input device

The concept of DuoSkin may be familiar is it was previously known as Tattio, a connected tattoo announced earlier this year. The Tattio, according to MIT Media Labs and Microsoft Research, can serve as Near Field Communication (NFC) tags, Thermochromic tattoos, and as an input device.

According to reports then, the Tattio is quite cheap to manufacture, costing about $1.50 each and could last being worn up to a day.  

This is not the first time tattoos are seen as more than just ink on skin. In 2015, Chaotic Moon LLC unveiled the Tech Tats, a special kind of tattoo that the startup is developing which is able to track the health and location of the wearer. It was seen as something that could replace fitness trackers as it is able to deliver better heart rate readings since it doesn’t move on the skin like other wearables.

Photo credit: MIT

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