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Screengrab via MIT Media Lab/Vimeo

MIT created a temporary tattoo that can control your connected devices

Own your body, own your devices.


AJ Dellinger


Posted on Aug 12, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 6:42 am CDT

In the future, when you see a person covered from head to toe in tattoos, you might find yourself thinking, “that person must own a lot of devices.” Thanks to a new invention from the creative minds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT) that future is now, albeit temporarily.

In collaboration with Microsoft, the MIT Media Lab developed a temporary tattoo that turns a user’s skin into a touch interface for smartphones and computers.

The project, led by PhD student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, is made possible thanks to a surprisingly common element: gold leaf. The thin, often decorative material is found on the frames of painting or sprinked in vodka or on top of desserts. And metallic temporary tattoos have absolutely dominated festival fashion, making this project an aesthetically pleasing innovation.

According to the research paper on DuoSkin, researchers wanted to find if gold leaf would be a workable material for the temporary tattoos. 

Turns out it’s quite workable! The team from MIT was not only able to acheive the conductivity required to achieve the interaction with connected devices, but were also able to shape the gold leaf into intricate designs that are every bit as expressive as a standard tattoo. 

In a video demonstrating the capabilities of the stick-on tattoos, Hsin-Liu Kao walks through a variety of ways the material can be used, including moving a cursor on a computer screen, lighting up to display other colors in response to temperature or emotions, or storing data that could be read by a smartphone or other device via NFC.

Creating the functional, fashionable tattoos is suprisingly simple as well—an intentional decision on the part of the team, inspired by the culture of Tawain, where cosmetics and accessories are readily acessible and affordable to anyone who wants to temporarily change their look. 

According to Hsin-Liu Kao, all that is required is a simple piece of graphic design software to design a circuit. The design is then printed out with a vinyl cutter, and the gold leaf is layered atop it. The final product is applied to the skin like any other temporary tattoo, turning the surface of the skin it’s placed on into an interactive surface for any connected device.

The researchers at MIT aren’t the only ones trying to modernize tattoos. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego recently developed a temporary tattoo that serves as an on-skin breathalyzer to tell how drunk the wearer is. Last year, mobile development company Chaotic Moon unveiled its Tech Tats project, which essentially paints sensors that one would expect to find in a fitness tracker onto a person’s body.

H/T TheNextWeb

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*First Published: Aug 12, 2016, 7:13 pm CDT