High-Tech Tattoos - Help Week


By Meredith Schneider


With tattoos becoming less and less taboo, and personal information getting more and more accessible, it was only a matter of time before the QR code tattoo – a tattoo containing digital information about its wearer – came into being. But these information-embedded tattoos aren’t simply for fashion – they’re actually giving tattoos a greater societal purpose.

Scientists are in the process of developing a temporary tattoo that contains microchips that aid in the monitoring of health. Gone will be the days when bulky sensors and devices are necessary to monitor heart rate, membrane excretions, and other health variables. The tattoos stay in place during rigorous activity, and have been said to have more staying power than your average temporary tattoo. They have been tested to stay on the skin for as long as two weeks.

The small sensor concealed in the tattoos was invented by researchers at University of California San Diego. The sensor is encased in a slender, malleable tattoo transfer, and comes in a variety of designs. The microchips contain a variety of sensing materials, so the tattoos can detect sweat factors that might be valuable to researchers in cosmetology and medicine.

UC San Diego. Photo courtesy of UCSD.

“The original work used thin, stretchable ribbon connectors that laminate (reversibly) onto one edge of the device for external connection during data extraction,” explains Professor John A. Rogers of the University of Illinois, who has also been studying this technology. “The most recent results incorporate wireless data transmission. We expect to publish the latest sometime in the next few months.”

Former college athlete Jeff Cunningham, 23, of Kansas City backs the idea of the tattoos for the advancement in athletics research. “I think it is a good idea,” he says. “I think it could be a step in making athletes safer during training and games by helping the trainers understand what the athlete’s body is going through during those times of extreme distress.”

Not only will the tattoos be of assistance to athletes and their trainers, but they could help doctors to monitor their patients’ ailments for extended periods of time. Instead of keeping patients for overnight stays, studies, or basing their charts off of tests run in controlled lab environments, this could allow doctors to see how patients react physically in the real world. Variations of these tattoos have also been used to monitor brain waves and could be helpful in understanding patients with debilitating diseases.

“I would personally like a tattoo that was much smaller and [had] less of a design so it could be hidden better,” admits Cunningham. “But I think it is a good idea and worth testing and researching more.”

Dancer Stesha Moore-Pavich, 23, of San Diego won’t let herself get too excited about the product just yet. “Well, first you have to recognize it will only revolutionize [modern medicine] if you can get it cheap enough for the people.” It might be a while before these tattoos are available to the public, but researchers are not slowing down the process.