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These flash tattoos aren’t just pretty — they can control your phone too

There’s both form and function built into these new flash tattoos from the MIT Media Lab. Ushering in a new generation of wearables that behave almost like a second skin, the new DuoSkin from MIT and Microsoft Research takes temporary tattoos and turns them into connected devices. So now, controlling your smartphone or computer is as easy as tapping your tattoo.

Inspired by the trendy flash tattoos that are frequently seen adorning the the wrists and forearms of fashionistas everywhere, Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, a PhD student at the Media Lab, decided to inject some innovation into these aesthetics. In Taiwan, she explains in an MIT video, there exists a “huge culture” of cosmetics and street fashion, which allows individuals to “very easily change and edit your appearance whenever you want.” DuoSkin, then, simply takes this to the next level.

Described as a “fabrication process that enables anyone to create customized functional devices that can be attached directly on their skin,” DuoSkin uses “gold metal leaf, a material that is cheap, skin-friendly, and robust for everyday wear” for three different kinds of on-skin interfaces. For starters, these connected tattoos can take the form of “on-skin input elements that resemble traditional user interfaces, such as buttons, sliders, and 2D trackpads.” That means that DuoSkin turns your body’s surface into a trackpad or a virtual control knob that could adjust, say, the volume of your iPhone.

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Furthermore, “DuoSkin brings soft displays onto the skin, enabled through the ink-like qualities of thermochromic pigments.” That means that if your body temperature goes up or down, these tattoos can change color. And finally, DuoSkin devices are capable of communicating via NFC, which means they can store data that can later be read by a smartphone or another NFC-enabled device.

The end goal, Kao said, would be to get the DuoSkin technology into tattoo parlors so that the general public could start getting inked with … well, electronics. After all, why wear something when you can just have it tatted on, right?