November 21, 2009
Electronic Ink: LED Tattoos Implanted by Silk
The Illustrated Man. Tattoos have mostly been static graphics, limited in their usefulness in communication certain info. But researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have now come up with LED tattoos that can turn your skin into a living screen. And to help get this tech inside you, the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have found a way to use silk to implant the circuits.
I initially reported on the silk implantation in the forums, while Kenryouku_One gets props for the follow up on how the tech is being used to implant the LEDs. Meanwhile, Wired.com likens this technical cyber-marriage to Ray Bradbury’s book about a man with animated tattoos covering his body. Now I need to find this book and review it for you…
A silky entry. Why silk to implant electronics? From Technology Review:
By building thin, flexible silicon electronics on silk substrates, researchers have made electronics that almost completely dissolve inside the body. So far the research group has demonstrated arrays of transistors made on thin films of silk. While electronics must usually be encased to protect them from the body, these electronics don’t need protection, and the silk means the electronics conform to biological tissue. The silk melts away over time and the thin silicon circuits left behind don’t cause irritation because they are just nanometers thick.
Silk has been used before and is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for medical use. So far, all that’s left is to nano-size the electronics and make the connections better. Once that happens, then what?
It’s written all over your face… and the back of your wrist. Currently the technology is limited to monochrome displays, but even so, they can be just as useful. Blood-sugar readings are just a start. From H+:
Professor Litt’s laboratory is a collaboration between Neurology, Neurosurgery, Neuroscience, and Engineering. While epilepsy is the lab’s core focus, other research includes implantable neurodevices, functional neurosurgery, network and computational neuroscience, movement disorders, intra-operative and ICU monitoring, major mental illness, and other brain network disorders.
Ultimately, they can be interfacing with the brain to allow the implantee to control the tattoos.
The future isn’t black and white. Making the millions-of-colors tattoos may still be ways off, but that isn’t stopping Wired from speculating about future uses:
GPS, with a map readout on the back of the wrist would certainly be useful, as would chips that cover your eyeballs and can darken down when the sun is shining too bright.
And a full-body display will eventually be used for advertising. Combine this with bioluminescent ink, for example, and you could turn yourself into a small, walking version of Times Square. At least, unlike a real tattoo, you can switch this one off.
I’m thinking about simply changing skin color to start, like going from Albino white to dark chocolate African, or maybe steel gray… or alien green.
How about active/optical camouflage?