Scientists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, southwest of Seoul, recently produced a bioelectrode-like electronic tattoo (E-tattoo) ink made of liquid metal and carbon nanotubes.
According to Reuters, research leader and materials, science and engineering professor Steve Park stated, “In the future, what we plan to do is attach a wireless chip integrated with this ink so that we can converse, or we can transfer signal back and forth between our body and an external device.”
Electronic tattoos may seem like they belong in science fiction, but they actually exist and have a variety of surprising applications. This blog will examine this intriguing new technology, its present uses, and how it could be utilized in the future.
What Is An E-Tattoo?
Electronic tattoos, also known as e-tattoos or digital tattoos, are put on moist skin and remain there for a few days or until rubbed off, similar to temporary tattoos for children. Medical tattoos may detect crucial indicators such as heart rate, blood pressure, hydration, and blood sugar levels, whereas children’s tattoos are simply aesthetic.
According to studies, conductive ink and flexible electrical components can be utilized to produce an e-tattoo that can track important data about the person wearing it. According to Carnegie Mellon University, these tattoos are made by printing ultrathin circuitry with a liquid metal alloy.
It must be dampened before being put to the skin, much like a child’s cosmetic tattoo. Unlike traditional medical devices, these tattoos have properties more akin to lightweight materials; they may be bent, folded, twisted, or otherwise stretched without losing function. It’s similar to having a smart Band-Aid or the Internet of Things for your body.
Only recent breakthroughs in 3D printing and circuit printing technologies have made digital tattoo possible. According to the Medical Futurist, a medical tattoo can be made from materials such as graphene, gold nanorods, or other polymers with a rubber backing.
Data about the wearer can be collected by tiny electrodes inserted in the tattoo and sent to telephones or other linked devices. They will be more effective than present wearables and may eventually replace them since they will be in constant and direct contact with the skin.
Furthermore, because they may get energy through electrophysiological processes, they can operate without batteries.
How Does It Work?
The ink will be linked to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine or another type of biosensor that continually monitors a person’s health.
The readings may also be inspected using portable monitors that can be put anywhere, and the system will promptly convey notifications in the case of a medical emergency.
When asked how the procedure would work, Park stated, “When it is put to the skin, even with rubbing, the tattoo does not peel off, which is not conceivable with merely liquid metal,” according to Reuters.
What Is The Purpose Of Electronic Tattoos?
Electronic tattoos might have a wide range of medicinal applications, according to researchers. For example, ultra-precise thermometers can detect minute changes in body temperature and trigger alarms when they exceed or fall below a predefined threshold. Because thermometer patches are so thin and flexible, they may be worn for months.
In a few years, a single, low-cost rubber patch affixed to the chest of a patient or even a newborn baby would likely monitor a variety of vital indicators such as body temperature, nutritional status, hydration, heart rate, and breathing rate.
This is where the majority of us will come across electronic tattoos. The use of electronic tattoos to monitor the vital signs of patients is likely to become more common in healthcare. However, this concept has applications outside of the doctor’s office.
Google, for instance, has patents for an electronic tattoo that serves as a lie detector. A throat tattoo transmits sounds from the neck to a smartphone or other connected device. The concept might be beneficial as a microphone in a loud setting.
Electrozyme is a firm that creates electronic tattoos that appear to improve sports performance. They may test lactate levels, which indicate the degree of muscular tiredness. The patch can detect pH levels on the skin, which indicates hydration levels, as well as other parameters of obvious importance to athletes. Consider a fully professional football team wearing similar patches, with medical personnel monitoring their vitals and providing advice to the coach to minimize fatigue and injury.
The ideal wearable computer is electronic tattoos. When app developers get involved, there’s no knowing what a patch of electronics put someplace on your body and remotely connected to a smartphone can achieve.
It will begin with mostly medical applications before evolving into a cyborg-like capacity of fusing human flesh with sensing devices and communication.
Why Are Electronic Tattoos Becoming Popular Now?
A materials revolution precedes almost every major technological innovation. The computer revolution, for example, owes its trajectory to the invention of semiconductor materials such as silicon, which replaced vacuum tubes and gave rise to Moore’s Law, which asserts that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles about every two years.
The development of small and flexible electronics is driving the electronic tattoo revolution. Indeed, the development of flexible electronics has been ongoing for decades. Most modern gadgets, from phones to digital cameras, use flexible circuits to bend circuit boards in order to fit everything into a small area. However, it has been more viable in recent years to develop flexible circuits that can roll, stretch, and, most critically, bend repeatedly without failing.
Pros Of E-Tattoos
- Stress-free: E-tattoos are readily portable since they live on your skin. You also do not need to bother about charging or changing batteries.
- Robust: Unlike most wearable gadgets, e-tattoos are waterproof, flexible, and stretch-resistant.
- Accurate and instant information: Wearable gadgets can only read data from the skin or clothes. This might make it difficult for them to obtain precise readings. E-tattoos merge straight into your skin and deliver accurate, real-time data that might save your life.
- Environmentally friendly: Wearable gadgets that are discarded after months or years of usage become material waste, affecting the environment. Smart tattoos aid in the resolution of this issue.
Cons Of E-Tattoos
- Impermanent: There is currently no technology available for permanent, long-lasting electronic tattoos. The majority of these tattoos are intended to be worn for no more than 1-2 weeks. Even if e-tattoos are permanent, most individuals may object to having a permanent marker on their bodies.
- Privacy/hacking concerns: Microsoft is developing smart tattoos that can connect to your smartphone. While this is easy, it may represent a huge risk if your data slips into the hands of the wrong people.
Future Uses Of E-Tattoos
Researchers predict that as technology advances, electronic tattoos will have more complex capabilities. Electronic tattoos may be used to induce muscular contraction to assist patients to walk again and overcome difficulties caused by lengthy periods of inactivity or bed rest, in addition to what is currently medically achievable. The technology may also be utilized to improve the functionality of prosthetic limbs, allowing the patient to operate their prosthesis in a more natural and intuitive manner.
There are several applications for this technology outside of healthcare, and more are sure to emerge as the technology advances. There are ideas to employ electronic tattoos as lie detectors, and neck tattoos might be used to transform speech into voice instructions for a variety of technology. They might also serve as remote microphones in circumstances where speech is either drowned out or muffled by reading the muscle movements of the throat during speaking and turning them into clear words on another device.
Researchers have previously evaluated the technology’s potential for usage in computer games by converting real-life muscle motions or vocal instructions into in-game activities using electronic tattoos. While virtual reality gaming has been around for a while, the addition of electronic tattoos might result in a VR experience on par with science fiction.
Electronic tattoos are the future of wearable computing as well. While Apple Watches and Fitbits are now available, flexible electronics technology might be woven into garments that can link to smartphones and computers to accomplish a variety of tasks. Electronic tattoos might bridge the gap between us and the smart technologies or apps we now use.
Instead of entering the workouts, we completed at the gym into an app, that data may be collected in real-time.
While electronic tattoos are now being utilized and investigated for their potential in healthcare, they may become commonplace with smart technology and the Internet of Things. Perhaps more astonishing than the tattoos themselves is the evolution of the technology that has enabled them to occur – flexible electronics. Flexible electronics will usher in wonderful new technologies, some of which we may not even be able to envisage at this moment.
Wearables such as e-tattoos might reduce the ways in which vital medical gadgets interfere with a patient’s life as healthcare technology becomes smaller and smarter. The majority of electronic tattoo is currently in the research and development stage. These gadgets may eventually be less intrusive than previous approaches while remaining as accurate and dependable as present equipment. Furthermore, they look very attractive, which may encourage more individuals to use these life-saving gadgets.