By: Nick Gambino
How would you like to find out what time it is simply by looking at your bare arm instead of a wristwatch? How about seeing your heart rate or body temperature?
This is all possible with a new technology known as “smart skin” or “e-skins.” Here’s how it would work. Electronic sensors would be packed into an ultra-thin and incredibly flexible material that could be worn on the skin. Think temporary tattoo with technology smashed into it.
These sensors could be Bluetooth compatible and receive data from your smartphone or they could work on their own. Recent research by the University of Tokyo gave way to a test where they attached smart skin to a finger which then detected blood oxygen levels and transmitted the results to a smart skin display on the hand.
Now what was special about this research is not the fact that you can replace fingertip pulse oximeters with tattoos or smart skin but it was the robustness of the skin’s production. Earlier skins only worked for a few hours at the most where this one worked for over a day due to its protective coating that prevents water vapor and air from seeping in.
The head of this study, Professor Takao Someya, elaborated on its importance, “The advent of mobile phones has changed the way we communicate. While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us. What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease?” He continued, “In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate.”
There are various independent researchers working on smart skins with the eventual goal of being able to turn them into a full-on digital screen. These screens would be able to feed you all of your smartphone data right on your skin.
At this point that’s probably a long way off but not out of reach. The University of Tokyo’s research is a giant step forward but we’re likely to see numerous giant steps forward before we see smart skin tattoos commercially available.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Gambino is a regular script writer and tech beat reporter for NewsWatch. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.
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