Smart Body Art: MIT Temporary Tattoos Turn Your Arm into a Touchpad


Simple but powerful, these conductive tattoos communicate data and actions to paired electronic devices, translating touch actions into digital activations. As biohacking and other transhumanist interventions go, this technology represents a relatively light-touch approach with potential appeal to a broader audience beyond your typical body hacker.

A collaboration between the MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research, DuoSkin combines high-tech geekery with everyday fashion, putting circuits right on your skin for easy access. There are four essential configurations at work: a basic button for single-click actions, a slider to scroll, another slighter for continuous scrolls and a complex lattice that acts as a track pad.


They look like gold and silver flash tattoos but perform a variety of technological feats, thanks to a microcontroller and wireless communication unit. Connected to smartphones, computers or other gadgets, DuoSkin can be used like a touchpad controller, or can change color based on temperature, or can pull and transmit biological data (and combinations thereof).


Imagine: answering the phone, skipping a track in your podcast queue, turning on a TV or turning down the music with a quick swipe to your forearm. The fact that this system is easily removable is one of the key selling points, a harbinger of future mass-market tech that can be applied, taken back off and discarded, just like any other temporary tattoo.


From the design team: “DuoSkin is a fabrication process that enables anyone to create customized functional devices that can be attached directly on their skin. Using gold metal leaf, a material that is cheap, skin-friendly, and robust for everyday wear, we demonstrate three types of on-skin interfaces: sensing touch input, displaying output, and wireless communication.”


“DuoSkin draws from the aesthetics found in metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos to create on-skin devices which resemble jewelry. DuoSkin devices enable users to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information on their skin while serving as a statement of personal style. We believe that in the future, on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified; instead, they will converge towards the user friendliness, extensibility, and aesthetics of body decorations, forming a DuoSkin integrated to the extent that it has seemingly disappeared.”