Temporary tattoos have grown and evolved with us over the last decade or two. We’ve gone from placing our favorite cartoon characters on our arms to more elegant, intricate designs. You can find all kinds of amazing temporary tattoo art ranging from bold geometric patterns to watercolor florals. Plus, they’re not permanent, so there’s no commitment to the body art! But these temporary tattoos created by the MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research blow other ink out of the water.
These researchers have created temporary tattoos that can control electronic devices using a process called “DuoSkin.” There are a number of potential functions, from communicating to your cell phone to controlling your music player. This isn’t the first attempt that scientists have made to create devices that function human skin, but DuoSkin is notable for using inexpensive and accessible materials, like temporary tattoo paper and gold leaf. It helps that the tattoos are also SO beautiful.
In a paper to be presented in September to the International Symposium of Wearable Computers, the researchers go into detail about how DuoSkin works. Gold leaf is especially important to the process. It’s relatively cheap and easy to get, fulfilling the goal of making it accessible to the public. Gold leaf also conducts electricity, a key factor in its communication with electronic devices. It’s aesthetically pleasing, allowing the creators to make the ever-popular metallic temporary tattoos. Making DuoSkin devices requires only a basic graphic design program, a vinyl cutter, temporary tattoo paper, and gold leaf.
In the video, PhD student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao explains how she and her fellow researchers designed DuoSkin to be “accessible for everyone.” She connects it with the culture of her home country, Taiwan. In Taiwan, there is a huge emphasis on beauty and street style, Kao explains. There are shops and vending machines that constantly allow for the street style culture to be available for anyone at any time. That influenced the DuoSkin researchers to make it a cost-effective and easy process. Like any other temporary tattoo, all you need to do after making it is apply it on your skin with water and peel away the backing.
The team envisions DuoSkin with three key purposes. The first function would be as an input device, which would transform the skin into an interface. This type of tattoo would allow wearers to scroll through music selections or use it as a trackpad, like this:
A DuoSkin tattoo can also display information as an output display. One of the ways the researchers do this is through the body’s change in temperature. By incorporating thermochromic materials into the artwork, the tattoo will change colors as the wearer’s body temperature fluctuates. There are also variations that light up to indicate emotion. It’s like a mood ring but way cooler:
The third main purpose of DuoSkin tattoos would be to communicate with other electronic devices. These tattoos use a metallic coil in conjunction with a tiny chip to make NFC tags that contain data. NFC tags can then be read and processed by phones or other devices:
Although the technology of these tattoos is actually groundbreaking, the researchers also wanted to emphasize the style and aesthetics involved in the artwork. “In the future, when you walk into a tattoo parlor, you will come out with a tattoo like this,” Kao says. “They will not only be very sophisticated technically, but they will become an extension of yourself.” Tattoos already have their own culture and are becoming increasingly popular as forms of artwork in modern society, but DuoSkin breaks the barrier separating art and science. We can’t wait for these to be on the market.