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These Temporary Tattoos Could Fly Drones

A new electronic tattoo with a microchip inside it could mean people using their minds to fly drones, talk on the phone, and do all sorts of other things using only their minds

smithsonian.com

Temporary tattoos just got serious. A new electronic tattoo with a microchip inside it could allow people to fly drones, talk on the phone and do all sorts of other things—using only their minds. It sounds like a bad science fiction plot, but Txchnologist has the story:

The devices are less than 100 microns thick, the average diameter of a human hair. They consist of circuitry embedded in a layer or rubbery polyester that allow them to stretch, bend and wrinkle. They are barely visible when placed on skin, making them easy to conceal from others.

The devices can detect electrical signals linked with brain waves, and incorporate solar cells for power and antennas that allow them to communicate wirelessly or receive energy. Other elements can be added as well, like thermal sensors to monitor skin temperature and light detectors to analyze blood oxygen levels.

For the scientists behind this, these tattoos offer a cheaper, easier, less invasive means of control than technology like electrodes or brain implants. The flexible design is key, says Popular Science. Here’s how it works:

The circuits are made possible through novel fabrication methods that allow bendable versions of semiconductors that are brittle when in bulk form. The research team, which also included engineering researchers at Northwestern University, developed a new device geometry they call “filamentary serpentine,” according to a UI news release. The circuits of the various devices are fabricated as tiny, squiggled wires, as shown in the photo above. The circuits’ wavy shape allows them to bend, twist, scrunch and stretch while maintaining functionality.

The downside is that, while tattoos may be easier to slap on, brain implants are far more effective.

Of course, the tattoos can’t fly drones just yet. Much of the work is still early and theoretical. Like the idea that the tattoos could read the muscle movements in your throat that happen when you just think about talking and produce speech. The National Science Foundation announced the effectiveness of the speech reader in a press release last year, saying:

The throat experiment yielded enough precision for the research team to differentiate words in vocabulary and even control a voice-activated video game interface with greater than 90 percent accuracy.

From speech to drones, the tattoos seem to have a ton of potential uses. This same technology has been sighted as a way to monitor patients wirelessly, writes The New York Times:

Wireless sensor technology is advancing rapidly. Last year, for example, Corventis, a medical device company based in San Jose, Calif., received Food and Drug Administration approval to market its Nuvant Mobile Cardiac Telemetry System, used to detect arrhythmias. A 2-by-6-inch electronic gizmo on a patient’s chest sends an electrocardiogram to a nearby transmitter, which relays it to a central monitoring center.

“Sensors on everyone, including a 60-year-old watching a football game who doesn’t know he’s at risk for a heart attack, would greatly reduce the chances of a fatal attack,” says Dr. Leslie A. Saxon, a cardiologist at the University of Southern California.

And for those football fans, brain electrodes aren’t exactly conducive to maximum heckling at the television, beer drinking, or chest bumping. With a tiny temporary tattoo, they can have their football game and their medical protection too.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Building a Human Brain
Turning Your Hand Into a Remote Control

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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