Technology is already so advanced that what was thought impossible a couple of years back is now possible in a jiffy.

A couple of years ago, tattoos can only be drawn on the skin with many having highlighted its unpleasant disadvantages, but with technology you can now get a smart tattoo called the Duoskin. The Duoskin becomes part of the skin and as of now, no disadvantage has been pointed out.

The Duoskin is an invention of the MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research, according to the World Economic Forum.

Though the Duoskin looks like fashion statements like a normal tattoo does, it includes other materials and electrical components that make the tattoos interactive.

The tattoos can turn into an interface that can be used, for example, as a track-pad or a button to remotely control your phone.

Alternatively, they can track and show you information about yourself. For example, by including thermo-chromic displays that change colour in reaction to heat, the tattoos can show you your body temperature.

A third possible function is wireless communication. The tattoo could include an NFC (Near Field Communications) tag, an electrical component that includes small microchips to store data that can be read by phones or by other NFC devices nearby.

In the near future, the technology could serve as a substitute for identification, subway cards, and even movie tickets, DuoSkin’s lead researcher Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao said in an interview with Quartz.

Kao calls DuoSkin a “project” and not, as you might expect a product or prototype.

The team hopes that others will read their research outlined in a paper that will be presented at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers 2016 and use the information as a basis to create their own personalised on-skin wearables.

Here is how this smart tattoo comes to be: First, you sketch the circuitry with a graphic design software. Then, you have to create stencils of the circuit by applying a layer of vinyl film on thin temporary tattoo paper and cut it with an electronic cutter. After that, you layer the conductive gold leaf on top with spray adhesives.

The next step is mounting the electronics. The DuoSkin device is planted on the user’s skin like a regular temporary tattoo through water-transfer: apply the tattoo to your skin, press down with a damp cloth, peel off the backing paper, and then remove it, leaving the tattoo behind.

Image: Microsoft Media/MIT Media Lab

Image: Microsoft Media/MIT Media Lab

While this isn’t the first time researchers have tried to use the skin as a touchscreen, previous attempts have proved to be expensive and required a device to project an interface onto the skin.

Other innovations that have attempted to bring electronics to temporary tattoo-style applications include UV detectors and blood alcohol measurements but no technology has been as simple and affordable as DuoSkin.

Kao says anyone can replicate the process for around $175—$150 to buy a craft electronic cutter from Amazon and another $10 each for the gold leaf and the temporary tattoo paper.

The MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research set out to create on-skin user interfaces using gold leaf, which is commonly found in craft stores, as a conductor.

Piggybacking on the trend in body-art and metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos, the team decided to repurpose gold leaf because it is “robust to movements and skin deformations during motion…[and] both workable and aesthetic in appearance”.

Author: Yemi Olarinre