In her research as an engineer and artist, Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao blends aesthetic and cultural perspectives into the design of on-body electronics. Currently a Ph.D. student at the MIT Media Lab, she is leading a project to make on-skin interfaces accessible to everyone. MIT’s Duoskin is a process that enables anyone with access to a design program to draw a circuit that can be incorporated into a temporary tattoo.
Kao explains that the tattoos come in three classes: the first turns skin into a track pad or controller to adjust a music player, for example. The second involves output displays—a rose design changes color as the wearer’s body temperature changes, or a fire image lights up to show a change in emotions. The third creates a communication device using near-field communication (NFC) technology to read data directly off the skin.
The circuit can be designed using a program such as Paint by Microsoft, one of the project’s supporters. The design is transferred to tattoo paper via a vinyl cutter, then gold leaf is layered onto the design. Gold leaf is used because of its aesthetic value as well its durability and friendliness to skin. The tattoos are applied, like other temporary tattoos, in moments.
Recently, Kao’s Media Lab team collaborated with fashion designer Chris Bevans to customize Duoskin for his New York Fashion Week menswear show. The team designed and fabricated ten NFC tags to be incorporated in Bevan’s clothing line, Dyne.
Because of the aesthetic value and functionality of Duoskin devices, Kao predicts the interfaces will be what tattoo parlors offer in the future.