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How Electronic Tattoos Work

        Tech | Other Gadgets

The Future of Electronic Tattoos
It's not going on your skin. It's going in your heart. Here we see stretchable electronics mounted on the elastic surface of a balloon catheter.
It's not going on your skin. It's going in your heart. Here we see stretchable electronics mounted on the elastic surface of a balloon catheter.
Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Electronic tattoos may not be available yet at your local hospital, but Dr. John A. Rogers and his cohorts at MC10 envision a future defined by epidermal electronics.

Far from mere passive observers of human anatomy, Rogers sees electronic tattoos as active agents in rehabilitation. Through the stimulation of muscle contractions, patches may help patients walk again following long periods of immobilization in a hospital bed. The technology may also streamline the use of prosthetic limbs, serving as the vital link between biology and machine.

For instance, one of Rogers' researchers placed an epidermal electronic device on his neck and used muscle movements to control a computer game. He spoke a word and the virtual game world responded. From here, the researchers imagine a world where such patches pick up on the muscular movements of speech to give voice to the mute and allow covert military operatives to speak silently to their home base [source: Gonzalez].

From this point, it's easy to extrapolate not only improved prosthetic limbs and robotic exoskeletons, but also a complete blurring of the line between man and machine. Biological inputs dictate the behavior of machines, and electronic signals inform expressions in the human body. In this, we become a true race of cyborgs -- only not one in which humans are grotesquely broken to meet the rigid demands of technology, but one where technology is forced to conform to the soft and subtle ways of the flesh.

And naturally, it would also mean crazy-awesome video game controllers for everyone. But before we reach that lofty point where the distinction between man and Mario Brother all but fades away, Rogers hopes to "eliminate the need for surgical interventions in the first place" [source: Ornes].

Now, wouldn't you agree that's a little more impressive than a pectoral flag tattoo that glows in the dark?


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