Google working on smart tattoos that turn skin into a touchpad

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Google is working on smart tattoos that turn skin into a touchpad.
Image: Google

Although Google is lagging behind in today’s world of smart wearables, it appears that the Big Tech company is thinking further ahead. It is quietly working on a form of temporary tattoo that transforms skin into a living touchpad. The technology opens the door for an array of digital applications that take the idea of wearables to the next level.

Dubbed “SkinMarks,” Google hopes that its smart tattoos will make interacting with technology feel more natural. Indeed, they would certainly bring humanity closer to a cyborg reality where our bodies are an extension for our technology and vice versa.

Making a Smart Tattoo

Google’s innovative SkinMarks project is certainly out of the ordinary. The temporary tattoos are loaded with sensors and are designed to be applied to any part of the body. For instance, it could go on the ridge of the knuckles or the side of a finger.

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One potential application for this tech is unlocking additional swipe gestures for a smartphone. There are only so many ways to manipulate a flat-screened device. Expanding its functionality beyond its borders paves the way for much more customization.

Meanwhile, Google believes there are more advantages to working with a smart tattoo on the skin’s surface. Users could squeeze the area around the tattoo, bend a finger or joint, or flex a muscle to activate the sensors.

Researchers wrote in a 2017 white paper that utilizing the fine motor skills humans innately possess is a benefit of using the skin as an interface. Moreover, doing things like bending and squeezing to control various gadgets feels more natural and organic than interacting with a display.

The team writes, “Through a vastly reduced tattoo thickness and increased stretchability, a SkinMark is sufficiently thin and flexible to conform to irregular geometry, like flexure lines and protruding bones.”

Google’s SkinMarks tattoos are created by screen printing conductive ink onto tattoo paper. The material is then thermally cured, allowing it to be applied to the skin. While some prototype versions resemble cartoons or light-up displays, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Researchers from Saarland University in Germany are currently leading the experiment.

Always Watching

While smart tattoos could unlock a variety of new ways to interact with our technology, they also raise concerns about privacy. Right now, when you’re tired of Google snooping on your online activity, you can simply turn off your phone.

With a smart tattoo, breaking the connection won’t be so easy.

Of course, that’s what Google is betting on. Finding new ways to convince users to adopt wearable devices—or print them on their skin—helps the company collect invaluable data. Even if they provide an incomplete picture new forms of data can add great value to targeted ad campaigns and similar projects.

Google currently makes more than $160 billion every year thanks to its targeted ads. Giving advertisers a new way to target their offerings would help generate even more revenue.

So, while the thought of controlling your devices with a smart tattoo seems cool, keep in mind that it could come with some unwanted side effects.

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