The largest organ of our body, our skin, might become the newest technology interface. Digital tattoos fused with circuitry can be applied to the skin to replace your TV remote and other devices. With biosensors and medical tattoos, you can say goodbye to wearables. Tattoos are transforming from modes of self-expression to practical investments in our bodies.
Digital Tattoos – The New Interface
The same motion it takes to rub lotion on your arm could have you controlling all of your devices. Yes, it sounds bizarre, but digital tattoos can act as light switches, touch pads, and much more.
DuoSkin is a project by MIT researchers that turns our skin into the next interface for technology. Essentially, they design a circuit using graphics software, stamp out the tattoo in gold leaf (which is conductive to electricity), and then apply other materials and components that make the tattoo interactive. And it actually works!
These early digital tattoos may change color based on your body temperature, allow you to control the volume on your phone by swiping different directions or replace the touchpad on your laptop.
If these seem like silly, useless applications then you aren’t alone. Personally, I’m fascinated with a different application: data communication.
By merging gold leaf with an NFC (near-field communication) chip, data stored within the tattoo can be translated to other devices. Similar to how ApplePay or SamsungPay work. Simply waving your arm over a chip reader could allow you to pay for your movie ticket or groceries. And unlike an Apple Watch, the stylishly designed digital tattoo is always on your arm.
They aren’t exactly a sleek, fool-proof design considering they are applied to the skin with a wet rag – similar to the temporary tattoos of our childhood. But the concept of our bodies becoming an interface takes a dive into transhuman advancements.
For people who are a bit more serious about the possibilities of digital tattoos, there’s a class of permanent ones with far more capabilities.
Biosensors Replace All Wearables
We can all agree that wearable fitness trackers haven’t lived up to their promise. They are clunky, unfashionable, and often times inaccurate – which is why the medical tattoos that do everything wearables do, and better, are so interesting.
Researchers at the University of Texas – Austin have created a tattoo that collects heart, muscle, and brain activity (electrocardiography, electromyography, and electroencephalography, respectively). In other words, what usually takes massive medical machinery to test can be done with these medical tattoos.
In essence, they are implantable biosensors that are practically transparent. So, they can be implanted anywhere on the body without disrupting your image. (Finally, I can get that Mike Tyson face tattoo I’ve always wanted!)
Most importantly these biosensors collect data closer to the source. Working in digital health, I’m constantly reminded by healthcare technologists that the wristwatch wearable is one of the worst spots on the body to collect health information, given its far proximity from the heart and main muscle groups (your arms swing when you walk, greatly altering step data).
Medical tattoos on your foot, on your chest above your heart, and on your temples would collect heart, muscle, and brain data with much more accuracy and insight.
This would be revolutionary to solving many health issues before they amounted to something serious. But, I see the real impact of these medical tattoos in sports science.
Medical Tattoos in Sports
Since the dawn of civilization we’ve gathered in crowds to watch athletes showcase their physical prowess, and every year we want to see new levels of performance. Getting more out of athletes means attaining a better understanding of the human body during performance.
Due to their inconspicuous, non-disruptive nature, medical tattoos could provide real-time, in-game performance information that would bring sports science to new heights.
For instance, concussions are the worst opponent facing every NFL player. Medical tattoos placed near the temples could track brain activity of players during a game, making sure to take players out that show early signs of a concussion before they do serious damage to their brains.
In the NBA, courtside trainers could monitor the energy exertion on every muscle of their players. Thus, advising coaches when to take a player out to stretch a muscle that’s on the verge of injury.
And let’s not forget about the grassroots level. It seems as though every year a youth football player dies during the summer heat due to overworking their bodies. DermalAbyss has created a tattoo that senses skin temperature and skin hydration. This would help better track a player’s health during practice and play – giving them breaks when their bodies need it.
Although most of us give up on our competitive athletic aspirations by the time we’re 20, this doesn’t mean we can’t all benefit from a better understanding of our bodies’ capabilities.
And it’s not always about getting better.
Consistency is Key
Most of our goals are centered around improvement. We want to make more money, get bigger muscles, and slimmer stomachs. It’s an immediacy mindset.
Marketers make oodles of money selling the next big wave in workouts and guaranteed to get rich schemes. This immediacy mindset almost always fails us because the workouts or the diets just aren’t realistic.
Don’t do 100 push-ups a day, get tired and quit after two days. Do 25 push ups a day for a whole month, something manageable, and you’ll find yourself naturally improving. Most importantly, you’ll have formed a habit around consistency.
At the time of his assassination, Gandhi had the organ health of someone half his age because he fasted for 36 hours once a week his entire life. This consistent act of clearing his system kept his body running at peak performance.
The trick to improving at anything doesn’t involve tricks at all. It’s just consistency. And the best way to make a habit consistent is to make it enjoyable.
Look back at the past 5 goals you achieved or failed. I’ll bet the difference was consistency. Shoot me an email with your thoughts on developing consistent habits…and let me know if you’d ever get a digital tattoo. Thanks for browsing this week’s Quick Theories!