Tattoos are prevalent in Western culture, but digital tattoos may become even more popular in the future. Lincoff (April 1, 2013) describes nearly a decade ago that, “the U.S. government was researching water-soluble electronics and temporary tattoos for military surveillance which were innovations in the field of microtechnology.” Now our culture is here with new digital tattoos soon to enter the market more rapidly.
DigitalHealthCentral (December 5, 2020) points out that “Digital tattoos come with different names: e-tattoos, electronic tattoos, or even e-skin but with a single purpose: Offering a discreet and efficient way to monitor health or interface with electronics for human-machine interactions.
The potential uses in healthcare and human-machine interactions are limitless in design. Digital tattoos, in essence, will be electronic-skin and will be capable of transmitting data continuously to a health monitoring device. Physiological data and monitoring will be invisible and convenient to use.
Dr. Bertalan Meskó asks, “What if markings on your skin could unlock your phone or get you access to entrance doors? Digital tattoos could act as rendering our skin an interactive display and making healthcare more invisible at the same time.” TechTarget Contributor (2022) reminds us that “a digital tattoo is a temporary tattoo that is outfitted with electronics, such as sensors or a near field communication (NFC) chip.”
More importantly, “a digital tattoo also refers to the permanent nature of a person’s actions and communications online, also known as a digital footprint.” TechTarget Contributor explains that digital tattoos can also tie into tap-to-pay methods, providing the ability to identify oneself and pay for goods and services of sale without carrying any device or a wallet.
The basic design for a digital tattoo is a graphic image that covers a small, flexible NFC chip on the wearer’s skin. The NFC chip has a small amount of memory that can be accessed through a smartphone app and used for various purposes. The tattoo itself is metallic with an antenna. The tattoos can last up to a week.
Meskó, B. (July 22, 2022) gives a few examples of some of the existing technology. For instance, Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego, “developed a temporary tattoo that extracts and measures the level of glucose in the fluid between skin cells.” The flexible device consists of carefully patterned electrodes printed on temporary tattoo paper.
The two electrodes apply a tiny amount of electrical current that forces glucose molecules that reside below the skin to rise to the surface, allowing blood sugar measurement. This form of the digital tattoo can have long-term benefits for patients.
Another example is a group of researchers at the University of Texas who created graphene-based, almost transparent tattoos. The thinner material allows the fine tattoo to wrinkle naturally with the skin. Graphene’s unique electronic properties work like wearable electronic devices, enabling monitoring of the electrical activity of the brain, heart, and muscles.
The tattoos would even allow the wearer to interact with machines for several days directly but can be removed easily by adhesive tape. Tattoos are unique and can be used to identify individuals, but with a digital tattoo, this new realm of body art may have the potential to transmit personal information unknowingly. Technology has pros and cons, and the benefits should always be considered before fully engaging the technology.
DigitalHealthCentral (December 5, 2020). Are digital tattoos the future of wearables? Are digital tattoos the future of wearables? – Digital Health Central
Lincoff, N. (April 1, 2013). Micro-tech: Tattoos to Monitor Your Heart, Dissolving Electronics & Portable X-rays. Micro-tech: Tattoos to Monitor Your Heart, Dissolving Electronics & Porta (healthline.com)
Meskó, B. (July 22, 2022). Digital Tattoos Make Healthcare More Invisible. The Future of Digital Health -How digital health technologies lead to a cultural transformation in healthcare. Digital Tattoos Make Healthcare More Invisible – The Medical Futurist
TechTarget Contributor (2022). Digital Tattoo. What is digital tattoo? – Definition from WhatIs.com (techtarget.com)