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DuoSkin touch slider
A DuoSkin touch-slider tattoo uses gold and silver leaf. (Credit: Jimmy Day / MIT)

Smart tattoos made out of super-thin electronics have been a thing for years, but now the technology is getting closer to fashionable prime time.

Microsoft Research has joined forces with MIT Media Lab for the latest iteration, dubbed DuoSkin. The skin-friendly process is the subject of a paper to be presented next month in Heidelberg, Germany, at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers.

“DuoSkin draws from the aesthetics found in metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos to create on-skin devices which resemble jewelry,” the research team reports in its paper about the technology.

The tattoos consist of artistic arrangements of conductive gold and silver leaf, plus tissue-thin electronics.

Apply an array of the circuitry to your forearm, using a water transfer method similar to that used for everyday temporary tattoos, and you have a trackpad or touchpad to control a music player or smartphone.

Other applications include tattoos that can change color or light up to reflect your mood, and an antenna tattoo that can transmit data via Bluetooth or near field communications (a.k.a. NFC).

DuoSkin tattoos are designed to last about as long as non-electronic temporary tattoos – maybe a few days at the most.

“I think there is no fashion statement greater than being able to change how your skin looks,” Cindy Kao, an MIT artist-engineer who has also worked at Microsoft Research, said in a video about the technology.

The fashion statement isn’t quite ready for commercialization, but it has more aesthetic appeal than past efforts to create electronic tattoos.

Earlier concepts have been floated by Nokia and Motorola, among others. Even DuoSkin has its precedent: Kao and her colleagues at Microsoft Research presented a paper in May at the ACM CHI conference in San Jose, Calif., about the tattoo fabrication process. At the time, the process was called Tattio.

So what else does Kao have up her sleeve? Would you believe a “smart” trackpad you can put on your thumbnail?

Hat tip to The Verge’s Lauren Goode.

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