These insanely thin LEDs let you put a digital display on the surface of your skin

What if wearable technology was more like a temporary tattoo than a gadget around your wrist? An incredibly thin digital display developed at the University of Tokyo could make skin-level digital displays a wearable reality. Other than the film layer researchers are using to stick their sensors and LEDs to human skin, the technology looks a whole lot like a light-up tattoo that displays data about your body’s health.

In their study, researchers from the University of Tokyo are calling the technology optoelectronic skins, or OE-skins. The photodetectors and the polymer LEDs are so thin that, even with the film layers sandwiching the technology, the entire device is only three micrometers thick. That’s even thinner than the external layer of human skin we all wear, to take the tattoo comparison even further. Combinations of different colored LEDs and more complex sensors could lend the technology to some impressive health tracking functionality.

One of the current prototypes of the super thin digital system uses organic photodetectors and polymer LEDs to measure and display oxygen concentration in the blood. “The device unobtrusively measures the oxygen concentration of blood when laminated on a finger. On-skin seven-segment digital displays and color indicators can visualize data directly on the body,” researchers explained in the study. That capacity for immediate, surface-level display is quietly being heralded as a promising future path for wearables.

So as the world of wearable devices is quickly moving towards thinner, more adaptable technology that exists as part of our day-to-day lives, it’s possible our gadget collections may shrink. Applications of the optoelectronic skin technology have been simple so far, but researchers believe that future versions could display complex fitness data in the same way a smart watch or health tracker might — but directly on the surface of your skin.

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