Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have created a series of temporary tattoos that can control smartphones, computers, and basically any device via touch. The DuoSkin tattoos have been created in partnership with Microsoft Research.

The gold and silver flash tattoos act as connected interfaces, letting wearers input control for devices, display output based on changes in the body temperature and transmit data to other devices through NFC wireless communication. Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, PhD Student at the MIT Media Lab, says that temporary tattoos are much like metallic jewelry, providing a great opportunity to add advanced functionalities to existing fashion. In Taiwan, for example, there is a huge demand for cosmetics and street fashion, which is inexpensive and accessible enough so wearers can actually change and edit their appearance whenever and whichever way they want. Researchers behind the DuoSkin were aiming to achieve something similar, but by bringing a unique twist on the existing temporary tattoo trend.

MIT DuoSkin Tattoos

Temp Tattoo for Controlling Gadgets

Unlike stick-on tattoos, DuoSkin temporary tattoos are actually made from gold metal leaf. It’s a conductive material and acts as an interactive surface by responding to touch. Wearer can use desktop graphics creation software to design the circuit, and feed the design via a vinyl cutter and layer the gold leaf on top and wear it like a temporary tattoo. Minuscule electronic components such as the NFC unit enable wireless interaction with devices.

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab has created four patterns for four unique ways in which the DuoSkin tattoo could be possibly used. One, lattice design for using it as input devices that turn the skin into a trackpad. Two, slider as a capacitive virtual control knob for adjusting volume on the connected smartphone or computer. Third, slider for continuous for scrolls, as an output-display, and changing color based on the body temperature. Wearers can also embed LEDs for on-skin light effects. All in all, wearers can collect the data read from connected devices via NFC wireless communication.

Kao sees consumer appeal in the DuoSkin tattoos. They’re basically a wearable technology and practically inexpensive. Moreover, the temporary tattoos can be worn by users who don’t want to spend $1,500 on a smartwatch or some other chunky piece of wearable technology.

The Future of DIY-Body Art

Notably, startups like Inkbox are working on giving people access to tattoo-based interfaces that don’t wash off overnight, or last forever either. In the past, tech behemoth Google has also experimented in the past with the NFC-enabled temporary tattoos. Similarly, materials scientist John Rogers has created a temporary tattoo-like electronic mesh that monitors hydration, strain and temperature. Cosmetics company L’Oreal isn’t much behind in the race either. It has designed a skin patch that monitors exposure to the UV rays.

The DuoSkin temporary tattoos might become a huge rage at music festivals like Coachella, or on Instagram, or simply, street fashion. The DuoSkin tattoos are customizable, so wearers can design their own tattoos instead of spending all of their money on a one-size-fits-all design. They’re easy to wear, and can be applied using water. The temporary tattoos will be presented in a paper during the upcoming International Symposium on Wearable Computers.