The future of wearables is engraved into the skin. Tattoos become hi-tech

In 1991, the frozen (and exceptionally preserved) body of a man whom scientists believe lived about 5,300 years ago, was discovered in the Otzalet Alps. Otzi – as it was nicknamed – had tattoos on his body, which were made by rubbing pulverized coal on vertical incisions in the skin. Therefore, tattoos have very ancient roots and endless meanings: they were a decoration for Egyptian women, a sign of devotion for the Celts, a symbol of war for the Romans.

For us, citizens of the third millennium, tattoos are about to acquire an even more important meaning. A joint research project by MIT in Boston and the Harvard Medical School has given life to the very first prototype of a bio-interface tattoo: Dermal Abyss (watch the video) which turns the body surface into an interactive display. Traditional tattoo inks are replaced by biosensors whose colours change in response to variations in the interstitial fluid. In essence, Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the internal organs of the body and then reflects its metabolic processes onto the skin. For this reason, it can be used for a wide variety of applications: as a tool for medical diagnostics, quantified self (as in the case of diabetes) or biological data encoding.

Also Fjord Austin, a software design company with headquarters in Texas, is developing its hi-tech tattoo: it is composed of a series of microparticles and “connective” inks that can create a circuit around

our body that will make us very similar to a cyborg: we will be able to detect our stress levels based on our sweating as well as to pay via contactless technology or locate friends at concerts via GPS.

If this sounds all weird, just think that a tattoer in Los Angeles has just developed Skin Motion (watch the video), an App that reads soundwaves tattooed on the skin. The designs can be made up of any recorded sounds – whether noises, spoken words, music or a combination of these elements – up to 1 minute long. The application can read tattoos and reproduce them, keeping on the skin the memory of a moment, song or the voice of a beloved one.