The trend in wearables is to make interacting with your devices ever more seamless. Thanks to your Fitbit, there's no need to strap your phone onto your arm to keep track of your exercise and, in theory at least, the iWatch can keep you from constantly needing to reach for your gadgets.
But the next step in this process might not be even smaller and more discreet bangles and buttons. In fact, you might not wear your interface at all. Instead it might become, literally, a part of you.
That's the possibility raised by a new joint project between the MIT Media Lab and Microsoft that has developed temporary tattoos (and quite stylish ones at that) that turn your skin into a touchpad. After you apply them, these tattoos could theoretically control your phone, track information about your body or movements, or even potentially serve as personal ID or a train ticket.
And the technology is surprisingly simple and cheap to replicate. The project's lead researcher, Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, explained the details to Quartz's Anaya Bhattacharya:
First, you sketch the circuitry with a graphic design software. Then, you have to create stencils of the circuitry by applying a layer of vinyl film on thin temporary tattoo paper and cut it with an electronic cutter. After that, you layer the conductive gold leaf on top with spray adhesives. The next step is mounting the electronics. The DuoSkin device is planted on the user's skin like a regular temporary tattoo...
Kao says anyone can replicate the process for around $175--$150 to buy a craft electronic cutter from Amazon and another $10 each for the gold leaf and the temporary tattoo paper.
Other academic researchers have come up with similar technologies previously, The Verge's Lauren Goode points out, but they were significantly more expensive to make and more difficult to use. The new technology is simpler, but it's still not available for commercial use. Kao is betting that might change.
"We see this developing as a business model," she told Bhattacharya, suggesting that "temporary tattoo parlors" could design and apply these interactive tattoos for interested customers.
If you're keen to learn more, the researchers have written up their work in a paper that will be presented at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers 2016. More information is also available on MIT's website, where you can sign up for updates on the project.
Would you consider wearing this sort of 'body art'?