Temporary Tech Tattoos, When Function Trumps Fashion

A sign of the times? As technology shrinks, it is finding its way into places and things never imagined before like tech tattoos.

Getting inked can be viewed as a form of expression. For some, adorning a tattoo is a fashion statement, for others it is a way of paying homage to someone or something meaningful in their life. As popular as tattoos are, not everyone wants ‘forever’, so when temporary tattoo’s were first introduced as an alternative to the permanent tattoo, they were unsurprisingly not well received by the younger generation. To the stylish youth, the new way of getting tatts was simply not cool enough to be taken seriously until now.

Temp Tech Tattoo
DuoSkin – Digital Skin Jewelry

Creative and Functional

With technology creeping into all facets of our life, temporary tattoo-like wearables are finally on the brink of becoming something exciting. Creative and functional, the innovation gained column inches back in 2014 when Silicon Valley tech company VivaInk announced the first commercial eSkin electronic product. The digital tattoo promised to open us to a whole new world of possibilities. Developed over two years ago with Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP), VivaInk’s tech tattoo, a paper thin adhesive digital tattoo designed to be worn on the wrist, was the first commercialized product of its kind at the time.

Lasting up to 5 days, the disposable digital tattoo was created to work with Motorola’s Moto X Smartphone, allowing the wearer to unlock their phone and log into their device with ease. Sold for a very affordable $9.99 the digital tattoos, available in packs of 10, made tech tattoos seem more likely than less likely.

Temp Tech Tattoo

Besides making a futuristic statement, as demonstrated by VivaInk, tech tattoos also have the power to play a more serious role in the health sector. For instance, imagine having diabetes that you can monitor using noninvasive technology that comes in the form of a temporary tattoo. With still no immediate cure available for diabetes, there has been progress made by companies such as Nemaura who have brought about sugarBEAT® a non-invasive needle-free glucose measurement patch that can be worn on your arm. Not quite a tattoo per say, the functional device is a small disposable patch that can be painlessly stuck onto a user’s arm, leg or abdomen, to measure the body’s glucose levels via the skin. Due to be launched in early 2017, the 1mm thick patch has been designed to take a sensor measurement’s every five minutes from the body’s interstitial fluid, drawn from the skin and  provides real-time monitoring for better health management.

Temp Tech Tattoo

Revolutionizing Medicine and Rehabilitation

Another innovation worthy of a mention is the temporary ‘electronic tattoo’. Besides giving insights to your health it will also give you new insights into your emotional life by measuring the activity of muscle and nerve cells. With such potential, the ‘electronic tattoo’ is poised to revolutionize medicine and rehabilitation.

Developed by Prof. Yael Hanein, head of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, the tattoo consists of carbon electrode with an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that enhances the electrode’s performance. Without irritating the skin,  the “stick it on and forget about it” tattoo records a strong, steady signal that could improve the therapeutic restoration of damaged nerves and tissue.

Temp Tech Tattoo
Nanotech “tattoo”, developed by Tel Aviv University. Credit: American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU)

The device was first developed as an alternative to electromyography, a test that assesses the health of muscles and nerve cells. Before the electric tattoo, the uncomfortable and unpleasant medical procedure required patients to lie sedentary in the lab for hours on end. Often a needle is stuck into muscle tissue to record its electrical activity, or patients are swabbed with a cold, sticky gel and attached to unwieldy surface electrodes. On this Prof. Hanein shares, “Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity.” 

When Function Trumps Fashion

When it comes to multi-use, it was great to learn that the ‘electronic tattoo’ has not only been designed to be used in the medical field, but according to Prof. Hanein, it can also be adopted by advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, who want to test people’s reactions to various products and situations. On this he shares, “Researchers worldwide are trying to develop methods for mapping emotions by analyzing facial expressions, mostly via photos and smart software. But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution.”

“It seems function trumps fashion, as being aesthetically pleasing takes a back seat and rightly so, for the moment at least.”

With temporary wearable-like tattoos becoming quite badass in the medical field, the only missing component is that they are currently not so pleasing to the eye. It seems that function trumps fashion when it comes to them being aesthetically pleasing, and rightly so, for the moment at least. This is not the case when it comes to the metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos, a growing trend that promises to provide easy access useful functional capabilities.

Temp Tech Tattoo

Tech tattoos a fashion trend

Developed by MIT Media Lab‘s partnership with Microsoft Research, it is a collab that has given birth to DuoSkin, a fabrication process that enables anyone to create customized functional devices that can be attached directly on their skin. Created using robust skin-friendly gold metal leaf, the on skin device offers three classes of on-skin interfaces: sensing touch input, displaying output, and wireless communication. Designed to be an extension of yourself, DuoSkin devices enable users to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information. Resembling jewellery, the temporary metallic tattoo trend has been seen on the likes of Beyonce minus the technology. It is a fashion trend that inspired the DuoSkin team to create technology that can also stylishly double as body decoration.

With plans to keep it affordable and accessible, we predict that DuoSkin will not stand alone in the realm of on-skin electronic tattoos, especially with companies such as Austin based software design firm Chaotic Moon Studio who recently debuted their concept of tech tattoos using conductive paint. It is just a matter of patience for the right on-skin interfaces to be offered that will allow us to sense touch input, display output, and wireless communication. These are the kind of useful interfaces that could entice the kind of consumers turned on by the idea of controlling an array of devices simultaneously.

Temp Tech Tattoo
Chaotic Moon Explores Biometric Tattoos For Medicine And The Military

We are confident that it will not be long now before the option of wearing bio-wearable technology will become the norm. We look forward to the day that smart tattoos will replace our activity trackers or when we can use our cool looking tatts to make mobile payments. With convenience being one of the corner stones of consumer targeted technology, it is not too far fetched to imagine tech tattoos going beyond being just for the cool set, we predict that with advanced technology embedded in them, temporary tattoos will soon appeal to everyone whether they adorn it to operate a device or monitor their health.

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