Tattoo-style diagnostic technology is old news in medical research, but companies such as MC10 aim to bring the discoveries mainstream.
The company started its activity in 2008 and was founded by medical wearables pioneer John Rogers and Roozbeh Ghaffari. Wearable sensors were Rogers' pet project for years, as shown by his research team at the University of Illinois.
MC10 showcases two items at CES 2016, and both grow from the same branch of skin-like sensors. The first is crafted with research environments in mind, while the second one is targeted towards the general goods consumer.
The flexible wearable sensor, dubbed BioStamp Research Connect, sticks to the skin of its user. Once in place, it gathers information about an array of health parameters.
It is designed to assist researchers into problems concerning motor skills, movement and various neurodegenerative disorders. Even if it looks more like a Band-Aid than an investigation device, the tiny adhesive medical tattoo is stacked with miniaturized technologies.
MC10 somehow fitted both an accelerometer and a gyroscope into this little package. What's more, the wearable gadget has the ability to monitor electrical activity from your skeletal muscles, and can even deliver an on-the-spot ECG.
The company estimates that the final product will reach the shelves sometime in 2016, and it's probable that the first batch will be sold out due to high interest from research centers worldwide.
Meanwhile, the consumer-oriented item that MC10 debuted at CES 2016 is designed and manufactured in cooperation with L'Oréal. The idea behind this sensor is to inform people how long they were exposed to sunlight and how much damage their skin endured.
Called My UV Patch, the sensor is a stretchable, ultra-thin sticker packed with dyes that modify their color depending on the duration of sun exposure. Taking a picture of the patch with your smartphone and running the sidekick app allows you to see how your skin fares after staying under the sun. The app also offers advices about tanning healthily, but it's likely that the common-sense advices will be "stay out of the sun during noon hours," "hydrate properly" and "wear sunscreen."
There is also 11/10 chance that the manufacturing engineers and researchers listened to Baz Luhrmann's Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen) while assembling the solar analyzing patch.
The two items that MC10 presented at CES 2016 are not the only ones that use tattoo-style stickers.
In Nov. 2015, researchers at the University of Illinois showcased an epidermal sensor that analyzes the blood flow under the skin. The sensor behaves like a temporary tattoo, and it functions for a full 24 hours in which it tracks the blood flow of the patient. While the patient continues with daily tasks, the flexible material allows it to be seamless throughout the day of data gathering.
Last year, a team from RMIT University also published a study about a skin patch that was able to detect UV radiation and dangerous gases. Such a device could prove vital for workers who operate in potentially hazardous places, such as underground or in coal-fired power stations.
The tattoo-style, transparent and flexible electronics have great potential to assist users, patients and researchers, so we might see them become a permanent part of the wearable industry.