It’s the best of both worlds: a tech solution that is forward thinking and efficient while also being stylish and trendy. Welcome to the world of DuoSkin, gold leaf temporary tattoos designed to control and communicate with devices.
Designers and engineers from MIT and Microsoft Research are working together to develop the technology, which in theory can take any pattern or image and temporarily place it on the skin as a sort of wireless remote control. With a look similar to trendy “flash tattoos”, DuoSkin can perform a number of functions, including serving as a touchpad for smartphones or computers, working as your digital identifier, or even acting as a crude light display to showcase body temperature or mood using newly developed color-changing pigmented temporary tattoos. The tattoos are made of gold leaf, a substance traditionally seen on picture frames, chocolate, or alcohol, because it acts as a conduit that connects to a near-field communication (NFC) tag and is also relatively gentle on skin.
DuoSkin isn’t the actual product, but rather the technology and process for making the temporary tattoos. The idea is that tattoo parlors could offer the service for tech-connected tattoos right in their own shop and apply the device connectivity to any pattern or image. The DuoSkin team has also said that the tattoos should be rather inexpensive, with an estimated cost of around $1.50 per tattoo. DuoSkin’s temporary tattoos are easily applied with water and last for a few days up to a few weeks.
“This is something we purposefully wanted to make accessible to anyone,” said creator Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, a PhD candidate at MIT. “All you need is a graphic design software like Paint or something to design the circuit. Then you would basically hook this up to a vinyl cutter and cut out the traces of the film layer on the tattoo paper and then you just lay on the gold leaf and remove it,” she continued. “After this you apply the tattoo onto your skin like a normal temporary tattoo.”
The development team designed four patterns, each with a different use: a simple button for single clicks, a slider for scrolls, a slider for continuous scrolls, and a lattice design for a trackpad. The technology’s touchpad can differentiate between vertical and horizontal traces on the tattoo, which allow users to use their tattoo very similarly to how they would operate a smartphone or tablet, such as sliding to unlock, tapping buttons to make selections, or tracing certain patterns for corresponding actions.
“We believe that in the future, on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified; instead, they will converge towards the user friendliness, extensibility, and aesthetics of body decorations,” the team said.
Temporary tattoos were first used in technology a few years ago when Motorola and VivaLnk created a similar product that was limited to NFC-link communication. We’ll have to see if DuoSkin has a more lasting presence, especially given the cultural stigmas with tattoos in some areas and the ever-changing fashion trends. What looks like a good idea now might be out of fashion in just a few months. However, DuoSkin seems to have the technology and business plan to lead a potential new wave of wireless device control and connectivity.
Up next, the DuoSkin team will present their findings at the Symposium of Wearable Computers in Germany in September, where they will be connected to the biggest players in the industry.