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This temporary tattoo can control your smartphone

DuoSkin’s metallic tattoos allow people to create three types of user interfaces on their skin. (Jimmy Day)
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Scientists at the MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research have designed metallic body art that can control and communicate with electronic devices, such as smartphones or laptops.

DuoSkin temporary tattoos, which can be made at home and wash off in a day, use the electrodes present in inexpensive gold leaf to create a conductive surface. The gold leaf and a thin layer of silicone adhere to the body to create an “interface” on the skin that when touched can indicate certain commands to your electronic devices.

The researchers developed three different types of tattoos. The first acts as a touchpad to control a computer cursor or adjust a music player. The second uses thermochromic pigments that change color when body temperature rises.  Finally, the third uses near field communication technology to transmit personal data, such as photos, between your phone and the tattoo.

The scientists wanted to show that wearable technology can be really customizable.

“It’s something that you own and not a one-size-fits-all wearable. You can design it and it can really cater to your needs and your personal sense of style,” said Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, one of the researchers behind the project.

More than just a fashion accessory, the DuoSkin tattoos further blur the line between the human body and technology.

The wearable technology trend pioneered by smartwatches and eyeglasses has exploded in recent years, as a broad range of devices and sensors that affix to the body have become popular with consumers. In many cases these gadgets collect personal information about users’ health and activities on the premise that they help to optimize our everyday lives.

But as much as consumers have embraced wearable technology, a Pew Research study from last month shows people are decidedly less bullish on technology that enhances our abilities from inside the body. A majority of Americans surveyed expressed at least some concern about brain chips, synthetic blood and gene editing, three technologies that could improve human health and performance by altering our physical being.

DuoSkin is not nearly so invasive, but the epidermis is, quite literally, our final barrier.

“What we found is people in our studies appreciated that they had control over it. They could decide when to wear it and when to remove it,” Kao said.

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