Imagine, standing in the crowd, your favourite band performing on stage, their logo glimmering inside a temporary customizable tattoo on your skin, throbbing along to the sound of the music, or even your heart rate.
Doesn’t seem too far-fetched in this modern era of wearable technology anymore, does it? But it’s still something new. A recent invention by researchers at the MIT Media Labs have come up with a customizable wearable tattoo that flaunts the wearer’s personality through programmable thermochromic pigments that change color when they're heated. They’re calling it DuoSkin.
Principal research designer at Microsoft, Asta Roseway, who worked with the Media Lab on the project with student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao said that the purpose of coming up with the DuoSkin was because they didn’t want to focus on the ‘all-in-one’ type of wearable devices that are available in the market. “We were really interested in pieces that didn't need to last forever or could be changed from day to day,” Roseway said.
The customizable tattoo is made of layered adhesive, gold leaf, thermochromic pigment, and a silicone interface.
Speaking on her inspiration for the DuoSkin, Hsin-Liu Kao, reveals that the idea originated from the recently popular stick-on body jewellery. “I like to call it ‘hybrid body crafting,’” says Hsin-Liu Kao, “We wanted to build an output display that allowed for a more aesthetically pleasing look—we wanted them to look like body art. The pigments are slower than typical displays, but they have an ink-like effect and are much more textured.”
Explaining the technology behind the DuoSkin, the use of the gold leaf works as the conductive material and resistive heating element underneath the thermochromic layer. When the gold layer is attached to a small battery, it heats up, and allows the pigment layer to change colour. In order to control the displayed content, the researchers developed their own smartphone app that could communicate with the tattoo via NFC Communications technology so that the wearer could update their “skin status”. They also used an Arduino mini as a microcontroller hidden underneath the wearer's sleeve that processes the sensor data. The wearer can touch the tattoo like a button to change songs or colors. It can take around 30 seconds for an image to fully display, and then another 50 seconds for the pigment to revert back to its original color.
The great part of these tattoos is that they're able to sustain some exposure to water, like normal temporary tattoos, and can last up to a day or two without peeling off.
“We built a platform that is more culture-driven instead of hardcore tech. We want to enable others to build this technology themselves,” says Hsin-Liu Kao. “It's very cheap technology and everything we used was open-source—we hope it will be an accessible wearable that anyone can call their own.”