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Microsoft, MIT Turn Temporary Tattoos Into Touchpads The temporary tattoos let you interact with connected devices, possibly turning your wrist into a smartphone touchpad.

By David Murphy

This story originally appeared on PCMag

MIT Media Lab

Temporary tattoos are more than just a fun activity to try at the beach, or some novel way to test out a real tattoo before you go under the needle. If some PhD students have their way, they'll soon be a fashionable way to control your smartphone.

That's not a typo. A new project from Microsoft Research and MIT's Media Lab combines embedded sensors and gold leaf -- a connective element -- to create interactive temporary tattoos. And these DuoSkin tattoos aren't just input-only. While you could use one of them to theoretically control the volume on your smartphone, they could also be used as an output device. In other words, tiny components in the temporary tattoo (like LEDs) could change in some fashion based on a stimulus, like your body temperature. The tattoo could also store data and transmit information when queried by other devices (like an NFC chip of sorts).

"Importantly, DuoSkin incorporates aesthetic customizations found on body decoration, giving form to exposed interfaces that so far have mostly been concealed by covers. Our technical evaluation confirmed that gold skin was more durable and preferable when affixed to skin than currently commodity materials during everyday wear," reads the research paper from MIT's Media Lab and Microsoft Research.

"This makes gold leaf a viable material for users to build functional and compelling on-skin devices. In our workshop evaluation, participants were able to customize their own on-skin music controllers that reflected personal aesthetics."

The one sticking point with the tattoos -- two, really -- are their ability to stay on your skin for a decent amount of time and external microcontrollers you have to attach in order to enable some tattoos' functions. Though the tattoo researchers appeared to have a little difficulty getting the tattoos' copper tape and conductive thread to stick to subjects participating in an eight-hour trial of the tattoos, the gold leaf itself stayed on perfectly.

Microcontrollers are a necessary part of the equation for those looking to have tattoos that serve as inputs or outputs, as batteries and other larger components aren't embedded in the gold-leaf tattoos themselves. However, these can be discreetly hidden on one's body (or attached to a piece of clothing). They're a small price to pay to turn one's wrist into a volume control or, better yet, a functional touchpad for one's connected device.

"We believe that in the future, on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified; instead, they will converge towards the user friendliness, extensibility and aesthetics of body decorations, forming a DuoSkin integrated to the extent that it has seemingly disappeared," reads a video description for DuoSkin.

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