This tattoo lets you control your smartphone

And changes colour based on your body temperature.

August 16, 2016

Two months after we told you about how technology is changing fashion, the world is moving on to bigger things. Students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have teamed up with Microsoft Research to produce the most appealing form of biohacking we’ve seen to date.

Presenting DuoSkin, described by MIT researchers on the project's dedicated page as a fabrication process that allows for the creation of customised functional devices that can be temporarily attached onto the skin of its users. 

How does DuoSkin work?

DuoSkin uses gold leaf – the same ingredient you’d find on The Royal Pizza at Pierchic – for conductivity, a vinyl cutter and temporary tattoo printing paper. People who wish to have one can use any desktop graphics creation software to design the circuit, then feed that design through the vinyl cutter, layer the gold leaf on top and apply it as they would any other standard temporary tattoo. The tattoo is completed with tiny electric components comprising of NFC chips. 


Specifically, DuoSkin can be used in three ways: 

  • As an input interface: the temporary tattoos are used to transform the wearer’s skin into a trackpad to control a device connected via NFC. 
  • As an output device: the tattoos are used as displays that change colour based on skin temperature. The tattoos can also embed LEDs for on-skin light effects.
  • As a communication interface: the tattoos can contain data which can be detected by other devices using NFC wireless technology. 

How the device came to be

According to MIT Media Lab PhD student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, the project originated from a growing trend of metallic temporary tattoos. She noted Taiwan’s culture of street fashion and cosmetics that’s easily accessible and affordable to the masses. This enables them to change their appearance whenever they want. The DuoSkin team wanted to achieve the same thing with their technological twist on the tattoo trend.

Kao, along with the other researchers at MIT are hoping DuoSkin can seamlessly integrate itself into users’ wardrobe to the extent where it becomes a natural afterthought and not seen as an accessory. To start off though Kao suggests having these temporary tattoos at tattoo parlours, so it’s easy for anyone to get connected ink.

Why is it important? 

DuoSkin is one of the few – and quite possibly the only – form of biohacking that doesn’t require any form of surgery. This could be the stepping stone mankind needs before we delve into CRISPR, smart-retinas and drug delivering nanoparticles.