Last year we wrote an article about the future role smart temporary tattoos could play in fashion, health and sports. With convenience recognised as one of the corner stones of consumer targeted technology, we imagined smart tattoos replacing our activity trackers or being used to make mobile payments. We also predicted that it would not be long before temporary tattoos upgrade wearables in a way that will seem more science fiction than reality.
It has now been 6 months since we last explored the possibilities that such technology could provide and since then there has been some new and exciting developments. Researchers from Waseda University in Japan have taken ‘electronic tattoos’ a step further. They have designed tattoos that sit on your skin and monitor your vital signs. This was no easy feat. Other impressive milestones included coming up with a new kind of elastomeric “nanosheet” film that is thinner than a human hair. Created to be flexible, the nanosheet in comfortable enough that it can be used directly on the skin. Then there is conductive “wiring”, which amazingly can be created on a household inkjet printer without the need for clean-room conditions. What this means is that we are able to indulge in a process called “sandwich fixation”, which is when elements like chips and LEDs can simply be sandwiched between two nanosheets, rather than chemically bonded or glued into place.
With success came challenges. Through collaboration of three specialties: molecular assembly and biomaterials science; medical robotics and rehabilitation engineering; and micro-electromechanical systemscome, the researchers had to make sure that the tattoo was flexible. The product also had to be ultra-thin and durable enough to be able to operate in a wide range of conditions. Their main challenge is to produce a commercial product that was affordable and easy to reproduce.
As they continue their work in developing life changing tattoos, they have shared that they expect to include human-machine interfaces and sensors with the power to radically improve tools in the fields of medicine, healthcare and sports training. Generally speaking, if we were to just take into account the impressive developments that are rapidly taking place at the moment, then it looks like it will not be very long before the existence of bulky wearables as we know them comes to an end.