Wearables for the skin: electronic tattoos

Biometric tattoos, the next level of wearable technology

When we talk about wearables, we are not only talking about removable accessories: wearable technology has an infinite number of applications, uses and form, and can even form part of our own skin. We are talking about electronic tattoos, an emerging market sector whose roots can be traced back almost 15 years to the Dutch company Philips in 2007. That year saw the launch of a version that changed color depending on the user’s mood thanks to the use of sensors.

However, the concept of electronic tattoos as we understand it today came from the company Chaotic Moon, who used ink as a channel for conducting electricity and transmitting information. In addition, this model had a small processor, which warned the user of any anomaly in the patterns through a small Led light. The tattoo was connected to a computer where information on health status, vital signs, performance during training sessions and location was stored.

From the past to the present and with a view to the future, today the electronic tattoo is a reality. These types of wearables are known as Tech Tats, a term coined by Chaotic Moon itself. Thanks to the electroconductive ink, they allow information to be processed in real time and are as easy to apply to the skin as classic temporary tattoos. The company assures that “in the future the user could acquire a fully customized Tech Tat preloaded with the desired functions”.

Electronic tattoos have not only caught the interest of this North American company: the technological research sector has also contributed some great advances.

Recently, researchers at the University of Missouri developed a version of this wearable capable of performing biometric analysis (temperature control, glucose levels, skin pH, etc.), simply using a pencil and paper. The graphite of the pencil has electrical properties, and can therefore be used as an electrode sensor via which to circulate information, while the paper works as a flexible support.

Elsewhere, a group of engineers from Duke University are investigating the possibility of printing electronic tattoos directly onto the skin, via the use of a new ink made up of silver nanowires capable of transporting information without the need for any additional elements. The development of this tattoo model greatly facilitates the process of implementation, since only a simple aerosol printer is needed to apply it to the body, thus avoiding the lengthier process of heating, washing and coating of materials.