The Professor with the Electronic Tattoo #CES2017

In what may be the ultimate wearable, Rotex’s electronic tattoo is a hair-thin, stretchable dry sensor for measuring things, such as electrocardiogram (ECG), electromyogram (EMG), electroencephalogram (EEG), skin temperature, and skin hydration. It conforms to the skin, like a temporary tattoo, so it blends into the skin. It currently receives its power and communicates via Bluetooth via an external box, but, in the future will communicate vital information and  transmit power via Near Field Communications to a nearby tablet or smart phone.

Dr. Nanshu Lu, the visionary behind Rotex’s products and a professor at University Texas of Austin, envisions this technology applied in health-care, athletic training and the human-machine interface. To that last point, she points out that using the EMG sensor, it is possible to use these devices as part of a gesture-based interface to control, say a game or drone. Applied to the head, Lu suggests that it will be possible to infer and control things from measuring brain activities.

More than a one-way system, Rotex has some interesting applications, such as a face mask that delivers “hyaluronic acid and collagen into dermal layers” in a non-invasive manner. Another application is a wearable meant to stimulate weary muscles. Of course, with features such as integrated strain gauges, it should be possible for the smart phone app to infer how tired that muscle is and provide the right amount of stimulation.

All this can be done in a device that blends in with the skin, although, in the future, perhaps these will be more of a fashion statement.  The 2011 paper, Epidermal Electronics (PDF), co-authored by Lu provides an idea of what electronic tattoos might look like (see page 839 for the pirate tattoo that covers the electronics).  With LEDs as possible elements and branding a possibility, it is no telling how people will wear and how they will use these tattoos of the 21st century.

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