Scientific skinful - health and electronic tattoos

Scientific skinful – health and electronic tattoos

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Scientific skinful - health and electronic tattoos

A baby is monitored by MC10’s Biostamp electronic tattoo. A baby is monitored by MC10’s Biostamp electronic tattoo. Source: Supplied

THESE days we’re used to seeing the extensively tattooed bodies of our pop stars, footballers and Olympians.

In a couple of years, these stars could also be wearing tattoos of a much more advanced sort. Electronic tattoos on different areas of their bodies will collect data about their heartbeat, muscular output, breathing and hydration levels.

And it may be possible for coaches to know at an instant the condition of any player on the ground in real time.

Indeed, the human body may soon mimic the modern car, which uses on-board computers to monitor engine performance and diagnose problems.

Technology journalists invariably are asked to predict “the next big thing” in tech. While wearable devices such as the iWatch and Google’s when-will-they-ever-sell-it Glass spec­tacles are hotly anticipated, my money is on electronic tattoos. They will profoundly enhance our personal capabilities, and monitor everything about our bodies.

By electronic tattoos, I mean ultra-thin slices of plastic or rubber that encase tiny silicon wires, sensors, radios, cameras and even electricity generating cells. These tattoos stick to your skin like a Band-Aid and are typically temporary, lasting three to five days.

Mankind has all the building blocks to make this technology possible: nanotechnology, flexible electronics and displays that can move with the skin’s surface, tiny sensors that not only monitor the environment and human movement but also analyse body fluids and functions. The 3-D printers that create the tiny circuits individualise the technology and help make it affordable.

Do electronic tattoos go beyond what wearable activity ­devices such as a Jawbone Up and Fitbit flex offer? Completely. They offer no discomfort to wear. And by sitting on the skin, they can detect, interact with and analyse all kinds of bodily fluids and muscle movements — to a degree that a worn device cannot. Instead of walking around wards with a swag of monitoring […]