This Temporary Tattoo Can Control Your Smartphone

Wearable tech just got a bit more aesthetically pleasing. A group of Ph.D. students from the MIT Media Lab and researchers from Microsoft Research have unveiled a project called DuoSkin, a fabrication process that allows you to create functional devices that can be attached directly to the skin — temporary tattoos with a technical purpose. The process uses gold metal leaf, which is cheap, provides basic conductivity, and is already used as an element in fashion.

“In the future, when you walk into a tattoo parlor, you would come out with a tattoo like this,” says Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, a Ph.D. student at the MIT Media Lab. “They will not only be very sophisticated technically, but they will become an extension of yourself.”

The researchers demonstrate three classes of on-skin interfaces enabled by DuoSkin: input, output, and wireless communication. The first senses touch input, turning the skin into a trackpad or controller for your phone. DuoSkin can also display output, like a tattoo that can change color based on your body temperature. And communication devices like NFC tags can allow you to read data directly from your skin.

The researchers laid out their process simply: they stretch skin circuitry with graphic design software, fabricate the device with simple stencils, apply some gold leaf as a conductor, and mount the electronics. After all the circuitry is finished, you can slap the DuoSkin right onto your skin with a water-transfer, like a temporary tattoo.

Wearable tech is definitely on the rise, and as researchers continue to develop smart watches, contact lenses, 3-D printed glasses, and other data-gathering devices, the aesthetic nature of these products is becoming more important. The developers behind DuoSkin are hoping their on-skin electronics can become seamless extensions that are “integrated to the extent that [they have] seemingly disappeared.” Their future is fashionable.