Microsoft and MIT team up to create tattoo that controls devices remotely

MIT and Microsoft Research engineers have created a smart tattoo that makes it possible to interact with surrounding gadgets, including smartphones, thus becoming one of the most comfortable wearables you’ve ever seen. The tattoos rely on gold leaf to sense a person’s touch, heat a display and communicate with other devices. The tattoos can connect wirelessly with smartphones through NFC, a type of technology used for mobile payments at retailers and elsewhere. The tattoo is powered by a lithium polymer battery and the brains of the operation is a small computing chip. The tattoos can send and receive information, serving as wearable devices that also add a touch of personal sense of style.

Called DuoSkin, the tattoo is removable and can also control computers, tablets, music players and even garage doors. Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, a PhD Student at the MIT Media Lab, and her team at DuoSkin are the brains behind this new technology which is just like any regular tattoo but comes with a small touch input surface that allows the wearer to perform a series of tasks.

These tattoos allow anyone to create interfaces directly on their skin,” said Cindy Kao in the video they put together to show their work. “The materials we use enable it to be aesthetic and to reflect a metallic look.”

And what’s more, the tattoo can also change colors and have different designs, thus fitting every choice of users around the world. Additionally the tattoo, could have LED’s embedded to make your tattoo dance along with you the next time you’re out clubbing. Thanks to sensors that can be directly built into its circuits, the tattoo can perform activities such as unlocking doors or can even play the role of a trackpad that enables you to control other external accessories.

DuoSkin is a fabrication process that enables anyone to create customized functional devices that can be attached directly on their skin. Using gold metal leaf, a material that is cheap, skin-friendly, and robust for everyday wear, we demonstrate three types of on-skin interfaces: sensing touch input, displaying output, and wireless communication,” Microsoft explained.

In the demo video, Kao demoed the three versions of the smart tattoo. The first uses the tattoo as an input device that turns the skin into a trackpad or a controller to adjust your phone. This might come in handy if you want to a pause a song or podcast so you could just make the adjustment by tapping on the smart tattoo itself. The second version serves as an output device, and displays information such as a person’s body temperature or their mood. A person’s mood could be detected by tracking changes in their body temperature or heartbeat. The third tattoo is a communication device. A digital device held near the tattoo would scan it for information. This opens the door for such tattoos replacing a movie ticket or bus ticket.

For the moment, however, this technology is still in development, so don’t expect it to reach mass production anytime soon. But it won’t be long before on-skin electronics become more widely adopted.

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