Skin Bling: Wearable Electronics from Golden Temporary Tattoos

MIT Media Lab and Microsoft have teamed up to take wearable devices one step further — they’ve glued the devices directly to the user’s skin. DuoSkin is a temporary tattoo created with gold leaf. Metallic “Flash” temporary fashion tattoos have become quite popular recently, so this builds on the trend. What the team has done is to use them to create user interfaces for wearable electronic devices.

weeding-gold-leaf-temporary-tattooGenerally speaking, gold leaf is incredibly fragile. In this process to yield the cleanest looking leaf the gold is not actually cut. Instead, the temporary tattoo film and backer are cut on a standard desktop vinyl cutter. The gold leaf is then applied to the entire film surface. The cut film/leaf can then be “weeded” — removing the unwanted portions of film which were isolated from the rest by the cutting process — to complete the temporary tattoo. The team tested this method and found that traces 4.5 mm or more thick were resilient enough to last the entire day on your skin.

The gold leaf tattoos make excellent capacitive touch sensors. The team was able to create sliders, buttons, and even 2 dimensional diamond grids. These controls were used to move a cursor on a computer or phone screen. They were even able to create a wearable NFC tag. The gold leaf is the antenna, and the NFC chip itself is mounted on the temporary tattoo backer.

These devices all look great, but with the exception of the NFC chip, we’re not seeing the electronics driving them. Capacitive touch sensors used as a UI for a phone will have to have a Bluetooth radio and a battery somewhere. We’re that’s all hidden under the arm of the user. You can see what we’re taking about in the video after the break. That said, the tools and materials are ubiquitous and easy to work with. Take a quick read through the white paper (PDF) and you can be making your own version of this today.

Thanks [Itay]

21 thoughts on “Skin Bling: Wearable Electronics from Golden Temporary Tattoos

  1. this is neat, perhaps not that practical yet but i could see the appeal of having a skin worn music control if it was light enough.
    though in fairness the devices for stuff like this would probably have to be designed with similar control schemes in mind, without screens or complex controls a modern smartphone could be made very small, of course with the caveat of requiring peripherals, but hey aren’t we all supposed to be using AR to navigate, shop and interact in the future?

  2. With his hands in the pockets of his jacket, he stared through the glass at a flat lozenge of vat grown flesh that lay on a carved pedestal of imitation jade. The color of its skin reminded him of Zone’s whores; it was tattooed with a luminous digital display wired to a sub-cutaneous chip. Why bother with the surgery, he found himself thinking, while sweat coursed down his ribs, when you could just carry the thing around in your pocket?

    1. I was thinking about that. What if one could use the same method to make power harvesting an antenna, and/or some capacitors on their skin? If they were really wild, even use their blood as fuel/electrolyte. But, that’s probably too far into “grinder” territory.

  3. Cute if you are superficial like that, but as an input method this tech is not likely to have much advantage when things like this exist,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subvocal_recognition

    When subvocal recognition hits the consumer market and phones contain complete speech to text neural nets most other input methods will become redundant as people will be able to just think to themselves and have their device respond intelligently, even without a cloud connection.

    My guess, within the next 5 years.

  4. This is silly nonsense and only good for click-bait – and has absolutely nothing to do with tattoos.
    You disappoint me HaD that you decided to pick this up and run it like you did, without the required biting sarcasm.

  5. I’m puzzled how they made the gold foil elastic! This foil is super thin and fragile and as a conductor it will easily break!

    I guess they didn’t and the proposed idea looks nice but is complete nonsense from a durability / material science point of view.

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