Sunday, April 18

Wearable Tech Tattoos Aren’t Just About Rad-Looking Ink

Most people who get a tattoo do so to express themselves, commemorate an occasion, or even turn an insecurity into art. But not everyone wants permanent ink on their bodies. While a traditional temporary tattoo might seem rather juvenile, there’s nothing childish about the hi-tech tattoos that are being developed and worn in the digital age. And many of them serve an even greater purpose than mere decoration.

Wearable technology has been around for a while now, and some of those wearables manage to combine function with fashion. But if you don’t like the obvious look of an Apple Watch, you might be into something a bit more feminine and metallic. DuoSkin, with help from MIT and Microsoft, is developing wearable, temporary tattoos layered with gold or silver leaf that look like jewelry but actually allow you to connect to any device with just the touch of a finger. It’s a natural-looking alternative to bulky devices, yet it sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.

That’s not the only kind of tech-heavy, skin-mounted wearable, though. There’s also one that will essentially turn your body into a loudspeaker. This so-called “smart skin” technology was initially developed with speech- and hearing-impaired individuals in mind, but it has the capability to function as a stretchy microphone snippet mounted on your skin. The developers add that it could even be embedded in the ears as an alternative to headphones. Although there were 334 million headphones and headsets sold worldwide in 2016, this wearable technology could come in handy if you forget them on a long trip — though hopefully the speakers wouldn’t be loud enough to annoy others around you.

But undoubtedly, the most popular use for temporary, wearable tats are medical in nature. Chaotic Moon Studios has developed a concept using conducive inks and circuit board components that would sit on the skin and monitor your health. While most circuit boards have anywhere from four to 10 layers, the circuitry here would be painted or transferred onto the epidermis (which has five layers itself). The creative technology studio maintains that the technology could be used to send important information to your doctor in lieu of a checkup, assess illness symptoms, take vital signs, or serve as an alternative to the permanent markings many cancer patients are forced to get to aid in their treatment.

There are other wearable tattoos that monitor health issues, as well. Scientists from China’s Tsinghua University have developed a flexible e-skin that is able to sense pressure and temperature. It’s able to sense vocalizations, breathing, and heartbeats. Interestingly, they can also be attached to plants — and they look much more like the temporary tattoos you probably put on when you were younger.

And then there’s the tattoo that can keep you from getting sunburned (or skin cancer, potentially). LogicInk’s UV-exposure tracking tattoo is finally on KickStarter, which means you could help make this color-changing, health-conscious tat a reality. It gathers UV absorption data and will inform you when it’s time to get out of the sun to avoid skin damage. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher — but whether you remember it or not, this tattoo could tell you when you need to seek out shade. In the future, the company plans to develop more wearable sensors to gather and alert information pertaining to hydration levels, pollution exposure, and even blood-alcohol concentration.

Ultimately, wearing this simple and flexible device could be a great investment in your health. But it’s nice to know that there are developments being made for fun and convenience, too. Of course, not everyone wants to look like a cyborg — but if you’re into that sort of thing, these tats could be perfect.

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