Could nanotech tattoos be the future of well, everything? Scientists certainly think so.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have developed an electronic “tattoo” that can monitor your facial expressions by tracking muscle movements.

They believe the “tattoo”, which is made up of non-invasive carbon electrodes attached to a thin polymer adhesive surface, could revolutionise pretty much everything – from medicine and rehabilitation to business and even advertising.

Scientists behind the project hope the device could be used to improve muscle control in stroke victims as well as monitor driver alertness and help amputees control artificial limbs.

“Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity,” explained Professor Yael Hanein, head of TAU’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

Nanotech tattoo.

Nanotech tattoos can be worn for hours without irritating the skin (Tel Aviv University)

 

“The physiological data measured in specific muscles may be used in the future to indicate the alertness of drivers on the road; patients in rehabilitation following stroke or brain injury may utilise the ‘tattoo’ to improve muscle control; and amputees may employ it to move artificial limbs with remaining muscles.”

Powered by nanotechnology, preliminary tests have shown these new skin electrodes are able to emit a steady signal for hours without irritating the skin.

“We used readily available materials and conventional industrial printing techniques, in order to simplify and speed up the development process,” Hanein continued.

“Our ‘electric tattoo’ consists of three parts: a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that sticks temporary tattoos to the skin and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating, with special nano-topography, that enhances the electrode’s performance.

Nanotech tattoo.
Professor Yael Hanein (Tel Aviv University)

 

“The result is an efficient skin electrode that records a strong and steady signal for many hours, and does not irritate the skin.

“The user just fixes it onto the skin at the right spot and forgets about it, then carries on as usual while the little ‘tattoo’ measures and records muscle activity.”

By monitoring facial movements, these tiny tattoo patches have the ability to map human emotion – something which nanotechnologists believe could have uses in business and media.

“The ability to identify and map people’s emotions has many potential uses,” said Hanein. “Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, and others — all want to test people’s reactions to various products and situations.

“Today, with no accurate scientific tools available, they rely mostly on inevitably subjective questionnaires.”

Nanotech tattoo.
These skin electrodes can monitor muscle activity (American Friends of Tel Aviv University)

 

Nanotech tattoos were first created to offer a painless alternative to electromyography – an uncomfortable test that involves inserting a small needle into the muscle used to test potentially damaged muscles and nerves.

Hanein says because these skin electrodes can be worn without discomfort, it could take away the need to perform electromyography ever again.