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Are Interactive Temporary Tattoos the Next Big Tech Accessory?

Posted by cfeehan on August 18, 2016

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Have you ever experienced the burning desire to control your music playlist or transmit data to other devices via your tattoos? Well, me neither – but given the opportunity, I’d be pretty excited to try it out.

The MIT Media Lab recently introduced a product created in partnership with Microsoft Research called DuoSkin: an aesthetic and easy-to-make on-skin interface. In simpler terms, it’s a temporary tattoo enhanced with tiny, multi-functional electronic components and topped with gold leaf, the element that makes it shiny and pretty. The video below makes the product a bit easier to understand, so give it a watch if you’re more of a visual learner.

So, are you sold yet? In case you missed it in the video, the three main uses for the DuoSkin device are:

1.      Sensing touch input

  • Essentially transforms your skin into a 2D touchpad
  • Allows you to control your mobile devices with a swipe or two directly onto the tattoo
  • Uses row-column scanning in a two-layer construction which differentiates horizontal traces from vertical ones; each type carries different information

2.      Output displays

  • Shows information using thermochromic pigments
  • These displays have different states; color change is triggered when heated beyond body temperature
  • Device can also light up to show your emotion

3.      Wireless communication

  • Enables users to store information directly on their skin. Concert tickets are a good example – if you had a NFC chip (near-field communication chip) containing the ticket information for the Tragically Hip’s final show this Saturday in Kingston embedded into a temporary tattoo on your wrist, it could be scanned, and you would theoretically be admitted just as easily as anyone else

If you can’t find a use for any of the above functions (which is highly unlikely), keep in mind that you can also enhance the tattoos’ aesthetics by adding LED lights to them! A shiny, glowing tattoo seems like a pretty great conversation starter to me. 

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Another unique point about this product is its widespread accessibility. As Cindy from the MIT Media Lab describes, these temporary tattoos are simple to make using commonly found instruments. The DuoSkin website lays out the creation process in three steps:

Step 1

Sketch the tattoo’s circuitry with graphic design software.

Step 2

Fabricate the tattoo, a process which includes:

       a) creating stencils of the circuitry;

       b) applying gold leaf as the conductive material, and;

       c) mounting electronics.

Step 3

After the the DuoSkin device has been fabricated, apply it to the user’s skin through water-transfer – holding a damp cloth over it for a few seconds – just like any other temporary tattoo!

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The only issue with this list is that it seems to be one step short – where and how do users buy the specific electronic components, like NFC chips, needed to make the product actually work? I guess that part will be up to the MIT lab once they completely roll out their DuoSkin device. For now, we’ll just have to imagine the possibilities.

All in all, I’m curious to learn more about the specifics of the DuoSkin device – the exact functions and customizability, price tag, and whether it’s really accessible to anyone. Maybe my first tattoo will be one that doubles as a pair of movie tickets – only time will tell!

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.