It’s now possible to make the best out of body defects. There’s a new electronic tattoo that can turn your wrinkles into touch-sensitive buttons.
The ultrathin electronic tattoos optimize on certain skin features such as freckles. The ideal location for touch-sensitive buttons is around lumps and birthmarks.
The development of this technology has been led by Martin Weigel at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany.
Imagine squeezing a freckle to answer a phone call, or slide a finger over your knuckles to change the volume of your music.
Google and Weigel’s co-workers at Saarland University used electronic ink to print wires and electrodes on temporary tattoo paper.
The tattoos are called SkinMarks. They are thinner than the width of a human hair. They are transferred onto the skin using water and last a couple of days before rubbing off.
One of Weigel’s colleagues at Saarland University said that they make use of the elastic properties of the skin, including bending and stretching.
The tattoos are responsive to changes in the skin surface. They incorporate multiple commands at one location.
A good example is pumping up the volume you could adjust your smartphone volume by sliding one finger across a tattoo placed along the side of another finger.
But if you bend the tattooed finger and the volume slider could become a play and pause button.
The same concept applies to tattoos on the knuckles which could act as four distinct buttons when the hand is making a fist. If the fingers are extended they function as one long slider.
There’s also another type of touch-sensitive tattoos which is electroluminescent. It glows when some current passes through it.
The tattoos can be shaped into icons that represent your favorite smartphone apps. The icons would light up when you receive a notification.
Another interesting feature is a heart-shaped tattoo that is placed over a volunteer’s birthmark. The heart-shaped tattoo can glow when your loved one is available for a phone call.
If that tattoo is touched, it would call that person’s phone.
Weigel’s co-workers will present the work at a computer-human interaction conference in Denver, Colorado in May.
The group connected the tattoos to a computer to test them. But in future they will link them to Android smartphones.
Weigel said that the tech has already passed and that the next step is to look at practical uses.
The new trend in technology is making the microcontrollers small. They are used to send signals from the tattoos to a computer or smartphone.
Weigel’s team used copper tape to connect the tattoos to a small microcontroller attached to the body with a wristband.
The main challenge is the bulky circuit boards which would be uncomfortable to wear on other parts of the body.
Chris Harrison from Carnegie Mellon University said that the research is amazing. Weigel’s team has made technology that could be used by artists, programmers and hobbyists.
Chris Harrison said that on-skin devices are the next logical step in wearable technology. Harrison pointed out that it will take 10 years before we see touch-sensitive tattoos in mainstream use. He also predicted that in future, the skin-based controls will be the new normal.