The Latest In Wearable-Tech: Electronic Skin Sensors?

You can now control your mobile device using a skin tattoo. A novel sensor technology allows you take calls, adjust volume and play music by touching tattoo-like strips stuck to the skin. Developed at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Saarland University at Germany, this device is constructed of biocompatible silicone with sensors that are sensitive to pressure changes in the skin.


Inspired by the ‘electronic skin’ features in robotics that allow robots to sense the environment, this invention called the iSkin could achieve in the field of mobile interaction what current hardware devices fall short of. Unlike the rigid components of current electronics that impose spatial restrictions on wearability, this flexible sensor could be worn even on the back of the ear. It is thin, stretchable and doesn’t lose its functionality even when folded or bent. The prototype is being developed in various sizes and shapes to test different points of operation in the body. They have also unveiled a foldable QWERTY keyboard to work with a smart watch.

The iSkin sensors are made from a material called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a common ingredient of Silly Putty. To start with, liquid PDMS is mixed with carbon black powder to form a thin film like base. The tattoo-like designs on the silicone strips are sketched on the computer after which they are traced out using laser on the silicone-carbon film. This carbon-doped silicone makes it conductible and thus suitable for electronic use. The laser cut tattoo design is then sandwiched between two clear sheets of silicone. These strips can then be attached to the body using medical-grade adhesive that can be easily removed without hurting the skin.

The technology surrounding iSkin has been previously used in prosthetic devices and robotics to sensitize them to the contact, pressure, and temperature of the external environment. However, this is the first time that the “second skin” technology has been adapted to interact with mobile devices.

The iSkin device prototype is currently wired to a computer, though it could be tweaked to work wirelessly and even harness the energy from our own bodies. While the makers aren’t looking to take this prototype further any time soon, this body-conforming sensor could sprout vigorous research in the area of skin-based communication.

Photo Courtesy of MC10.

Electronic skin sensors will change the way we interact with our mobile devices. For more technology related news and product reviews, check out: