MIT Media Lab, in partnership with Microsoft Research, has unveiled DuoSkin, a project that uses temporary tattoos as connected interfaces that can be used in a variety of ways.
DuoSkin, as described by MIT researchers on the project's dedicated page, is a fabrication process that allows for the creation of customized functional devices that can be attached onto the skin of users.
According to MIT Media Lab PhD student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, the project originated from the growing trend of metallic temporary tattoos, making DuoSkin a combination of existing fashion with useful functions in the connected world.
Kao states that in Taiwan, there is a huge culture of street fashion and cosmetics that is accessible and affordable enough to allow people to change their appearance whenever they would like to do so. The team of researchers for DuoSkin wanted to accomplish the same thing with the project.
The temporary tattoos used in DuoSkin are made out of gold metal leaf, which is a cheap and skin-friendly material that can be used for everyday wear. This is the same material that can sometimes be seen on top of desserts, and it is being used for DuoSkin due to its low price and basic conductivity. It is then combined with materials such as temporary tattoo printing paper and a vinyl cutter, and sometimes also LEDs, to create the products of the DuoSkin project.
There are three ways that DuoSkin temporary tattoos can be used, specifically as an input interface, an output interface or a communication interface.
As an input interface, the tattoos can be used to transform the wearer's skin into a trackpad or slider to control connected mobile devices or computers. As an output interface, the tattoos are capable of bringing soft displays to the skin that can change color depending on the skin temperature. Lastly, as a communication interface, the tattoos can contain data which can be detected by other devices using NFC wireless technology.
In the paper on the project, the researchers claim that the human skin can serve as the bridge between the physical and digital realms, as it could enable the personal aesthetic principle that is often seen as missing in modern wearable technology. The researchers are hoping that through DuoSkin, on-skin electronics can be pushed forward as functional, user-friendly and customizable interfaces.
Kao said that the technology could find its way into tattoo parlors in the future, especially with the customization options covering not only the design of the tattoos, but also their functions. DuoSkin could prove to be a great alternative to more cumbersome pieces of wearable technology such as smartwatches.