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These High-Tech Temporary Tattoos Can Turn Up the Volume

DuoSkin is a fabrication process for creating temporary tattoo user interfaces
DuoSkin capacitive touch slider made from gold and silver leaf. Photo: Jimmy Day

A trend in temporary tattoos transforms into temporary user interface technology in a new project from MIT Media Lab. In collaboration with Microsoft Research, six artists, including PhD student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, worked to create fashionable, wearable, user interfaces. Called DuoSkin, the fabrication process they created was inspired by fashionable metallic tattoos and a desire to create technologies that are more ingrained in people’s daily lives.


The process allows anyone to create these designs by following simple steps: Designs can be created using any graphic design software, then, hooking up the software to a vinyl cutter, the creator cuts a film layer on top of the tattoo paper, and then layers on the gold leaf. The tattoo is then applied like a regular temporary tattoo.

DuoSkin thermochromic displays are activated through underlying resistive heating elements composed of gold leaf. Photo: Jimmy Day

These shiny temp tatts can be one of three classes: input, output, or communication. Input tattoos “resemble traditional user interfaces,” the project's website explains. Relying on a touchpad which distinguishes horizontal movements from vertical ones, two fabricated layers provide a technology which can be used to, for example, control the volume of music.

Output tattoos, on the other hand, allow data to be translated into visual designs. For example, a flower design glows as the wearer’s body temperature changes. The final class of DuoSkin tattoo, communication devices, allows other devices to read data directly off the wearer’s skin. In a video demonstration of these stunning tattoos, an iPhone reads a metallic tattoo like a barcode, pulling up movie ticket information.

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

The artists have also added LED lights and other tech devices to metallic tattoos to enhance already beautiful designs, making each one unique. These designs, both technologically poweful and simply aesthetic, were inspired by Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao’s childhood in Taiwan, where she observed a beauty culture engrossed in temporary and unique body modifications. Kao imagines a world in the near future where tattoo parlours will offer interface tattoos, but for now, user interface tattoos exist only as temporary, fashionable glimpses into the future.


Control devices from DuoSkin 2D trackpad. Photo: Jimmy Day

To learn more, visit DuoSkin’s website.


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