MIT and Microsoft Research made a “smart tattoo” that transforms into on-skin interfaces

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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 and will be presented in full at a wearables symposium next month, 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.

 

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This isn’t the first time researchers have tried to turn our “dumb” epidermis into the equivalent of a touchscreen. Back in 2010, a Carnegie Mellon student, also in collaboration with Microsoft Research, came up with something called Skinput, which was designed to turn your wrist or the back of your hand into a “gestural finger input canvas.”

But that was more expensive to build and required some sort of device that would project an interface onto the skin, while this tattoo can simply be applied like a regular temporary tattoo: stick it on your skin, apply a damp cloth, peel off the tattoo paper, and eventually, remove. If anything, this is more akin to some of the “smart” patches that health and consumer product goods companies have been experimenting with.

 

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