Digital Interface Tattoo Melds Skin and Circuitry
A newly developed stick-on tattoo with integrated sensor technology, prior to application (from reverse).
CREDIT: J. Rogers, University of Illinois
You've never seen a tattoo like this before, not on any sailor nor any Suicide Girl... It's not a new tribal pattern or a clever way to say "mom." This tattoo will change what you think of tattoos in general, because this is the first tattoo that lets you talk directly to a computer. The temporary digital tattoo, which was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois and resembles a small computer chip, attaches directly to your skin. The embedded electrodes can simplify medical diagnostics, act as a computer input device and control computers through speech if implanted on the throat.
Originally designed for medical use , researchers say one major advantage of this tattoo is its convenience. The device can come in customizable colors, is extraordinarily small and extremely flexible, making it a breeze to keep on your forehead or arm while going through medical diagnostics.
"Our goal is to fashion electronics to enable an intimate and new level of integration with the skin for purposes of physiological status monitoring, stimulation and other kinds of applications relevant for human health care ,"," said John Rogers, a professor in the materials science and engineering department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Other potential uses for the tattoo, Rogers said, include monitoring of previously tricky areas of the body, like the throat. While it's tough to attach standard sensors to the larynx, this tattoo can monitor its functions without a hitch.
The next step in the team's research will be figuring out an optimal way to power the device. Rogers said they have been exploring two current options, though they are open to new possibilities.
The first option is wireless delivery. Rogers said that thanks to the inductive coils on the tattoo, it can absorb a substantial amount of power from an external device. However, you'd have to be in proximity to that power device for it to function, so Rogers said this process might be best for somebody who only needs the tattoo on an intermittent basis. The team is exploring ways to wirelessly transfer power from storage devices, like batteries.
The second option is photovoltaics or solar power. Solar cells will be able to generate power for the tattoo, Roger said, though they won't be as effective as the inductive coils. However, if it they are coupled with a storage device, solar cells could be a plausible route.
The team has already explored potential commercial viability for the tattoo, and Rogers said the goal is to get it up and running as a commercial product. Startup company mc10, which Rogers co-founded, is currently working on ways to produce and distribute the device.
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