Microsoft, MIT partner for IoT-enabled wearable tattoo
Microsoft, MIT partner for IoT-enabled wearable tattoo
Microsoft, MIT partner for IoT-enabled wearable tattoo

Microsoft, MIT partner for IoT-enabled wearable tattoo

PhD students have partnered with Microsoft Research to develop a new type of wearable.
At a time when wearables are becoming increasingly accepted as a useful part of our day to day lives, the challenge for developers is beginning to shift to the details, to making the user experience as seamless as possible.
The logical move is to take wearable technology one step further. The point at which wearables are no longer ‘worn’ and instead become integrated with the user, is when a real Internet of Things (IoT) revolution will have occurred. With this aim in mind, PhD researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have teamed up with Microsoft Research to develop temporary smart tattoos. This experimental form of wearable can be used to control electronics or send data through NFC.

DuoSkin wearable can conduct electricity

The technology developed has been named DuoSkin, and is essentially a “fabrication process”, through which anyone can create a custom device that can be attached to the skin to function as a user interface. The on-skin devices are made of gold leaf, a non-abrasive, relatively cheap material capable of withstanding day-to-day wear and tear and conducting electricity.

The design process begins with the creation of circuitry stencils, which are eventually used to form a gold leaf shell. Tiny electronic parts, including a communication chip, are added to the tattoo before the entire device is attached to the user’s skin via the kind of water transfer that will be familiar to anyone with a childhood experience of temporary tattoos.

Built into the metallic on-skin tattoos are elements found in many user interfaces, such as buttons, sliders, and 2D trackpads. The idea is that using DuoSkin should feel familiar. The technology has also been designed to change color based on skin temperature. This was made possible by including resistive heating elements underneath the thermochromic layer.

For many people the idea of a tattoo is the stuff of nightmares, but the creators of DuoSkin think their idea could combine aesthetics with functionality. A statement on the DuoSkin website reads:

“DuoSkin devices enable users to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information on their skin while serving as a statement of personal style. We believe that in the future, on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified; instead, they will converge towards the user friendliness, extensibility, and aesthetics of body decorations, forming a DuoSkin integrated to the extent that it has seemingly disappeared.”

Advanced wearable keeps hands free

Ian Hughes, an Internet of Things analyst at 451 Research, suggested that DuoSkin is the latest in a line of technologies helping user interfaces blend with the physical world.

“We have already seen the rapid shift from keyboards and mice to touch screens in a few short years”, he said. Gesture, touch, location, and voice are all becoming practical and usable as our technology fragments physically but remains network connected – this input form of augmented reality is another example.”

“In B2C it becomes not only functional but fashionable, like in the early days of Apple Ipod when the white headphone leads indicated your technology choice. In B2B these interfaces may fit more with health and safety needs, making it easier and safer to report in while in a risky situation, or as a panic button for staff out in the community.”

User interface fragmentation a challenge for developers

Although the increasing fragmentation of interfaces offers many challenges for developers, Hughes hinted that the more integrated we become with our devices, the less chance there will be of security issues.

“For developers, the fragmentation of user interfaces is a challenge, they will have to deal with multiple types of interface and work out how to inform the user of what multi-function buttons and sliders might mean,” he said. “Security may be difficult, though the closer to human augmentation we get the more biometrics signals can be read without the user needing to login or unlock applications.