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Your Hand as a Touchpad? Google’s Temporary Tattoos Will Make It Possible

2 min read
Jul 17, 2020

Google is developing smart temporary tattoos that will allow your body to act as a fully functional touchpad to control various electronic devices. Funded by Google, researchers at Saarland University in Germany are working to perfect the product, which is called SkinMarks.

One of the goals of the project is to make it easier to more naturally interact with the technology we use. The rub-on tattoos can be put on uneven areas on the body like your arm, fingers, or knuckles. Loaded with sensors, the tattoos can be activated by tapping them, using swipe gestures, or even just bending your fingers. Some can feature displays that light up.

In a published white paper, the researchers from Saarland said, “Through a vastly reduced tattoo thickness and increased stretchability, a SkinMark is sufficiently thin and flexible to conform to irregular geometry, like flexure lines and protruding bones.”

"The human body has various types of landmarks which are distinct from their surroundings. It offers unique possibilities for interaction due to their tactile properties and visual appearance. For example, protruding skeletal landmarks, like the knuckles, provide physical affordances for touching and circling around them," the researchers added in the white paper.

The tattoos are printed onto tattoo paper with conductive ink. The paper is then thermal-cured, allowing it to be affixed to the skin by rubbing it on, much like the temporary tattoos made for children.

Google is no stranger to wearable technology. Although 2012’s Google Glass was a resounding bust, the technology company is rumored to be working on a new version of its glasses along with more advanced smartwatches.

Of course, there’s great incentive to beat their competitors, like Facebook and Apple, to the market and cement their place in the wearable technology retail space. However, it should come as no surprise that Google’s real goal is to continue to cash in on user data.

Primarily through the data they acquire, targeted advertising adds over $160 billion to Google’s coffers every year.  It’s likely that devices such as these would create completely new categories of data, adding even more financial value.

While we can hope to see SkinMarks in the future, don’t hold your breath. Google often conducts this type of research with the goal of using it with existing products or to see how the market reacts, rather than with the goal of creating an entirely new product.