Jewelry-Inspired Gold Leaf Tattoos That Change Colors and Communicate

DuoSkin is accessible, beautiful, wearable tech developed by researchers at the MIT Media Lab

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have developed gold leaf temporary tattoos that can sense touch input, change colors to match the wearer’s mood, or communicate and share data with devices.

The secret to the new wearable tech, which is affordable in a way similar projects have not been, is gold leaf, which is conductive, skin-safe, and easy to attach and remove from skin. Researchers chose the material for these reasons and also for its appearance, which resembles the look of jewelry.

“DuoSkin draws from a trend in body art around metallic jewelry-like tattoos, which are temporary tattoos printed with nonconductive metallic ink,” write the researchers in a paper presenting the technology. “Unlike projects in the related work, DuoSkin leverages readily accessible materials and processes that enable users to create and customize on-skin circuitry. This accessibility expands on-skin electronics beyond medical applications while considering the aesthetics of body art.”

The researchers have developed three interfaces for the technology. The first, input, uses gold leaf electrodes to turn the tattoo into buttons that, when attached to a slim computer called an Arduino, also a worn device, detect the wearer’s touches and communicate wirelessly with the wearer’s phone. (Researchers developed music controllers with the technology, with wearers using the designs on the tattoos as buttons to change songs, increase the volume, and more.)

The second interface is output (pictured). This interface uses thermochromic pigments that change colors when they change temperatures. This technology can be combined with the electrodes, a small battery, and the Arduino to heat up and change color based on outside input. (The researchers give an example of a couple, one who had a button on her tattoo she could press when angry, the other who had a thermochromic tattoo that would change colors to indicate his partner’s mood.)

The third interface is wireless communication. This utilizes an NFC chip that attaches to the gold leaf. Wearers can use an app to update their “skin status,” and others can touch their phones to the wearer’s tattoo to receive that status.

“We built a platform that is more culture-driven instead of hardcore tech. We want to enable others to build this technology themselves,” Hsin-Liu (Cindy) Kao, an MIT student who worked on the project, told Popular Science. “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.”

(Screenshot courtesy of MIT Media Lab)

DuoSkin: Functional, stylish on-skin user interfaces from MIT Media Lab on Vimeo

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