'Tech Tats' Usher in New Generation of Wearables

A finished Tech Tat, featuring the Chaotic Moon bot, on the forearm of the company's interaction designer Alyssa Peters. Chaotic Moon

Devices like the Fitbit and Apple Watch are sold on the notion that they will provide a steady stream of personal data that could improve a person's life: help you lose weight, sleep better and reach fitness goals. But it only works if a user remembers to strap it on every day—and keeps it there.

However, research finds that consumers quickly tire of using these devices every day. A survey by Endeavour Partners, a digital consulting firm, found that 50 percent of consumers who purchased a tracking device no longer use it, and a third threw it in a drawer after six months. Chaotic Moon Studios, a startup in Austin, Texas, hopes to solve this problem (and many others) with "tech tattoos."

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Tech tattoos are made from small pieces of hardware components that connect with special paint that conducts electricity, creating a small circuitry that sits comfortably on the skin and resembles a simple circuit board. These "biowearables" can collect and store data such as heart rate and body temperature and then send that information to a smartphone app.

Chaotic Moon CEO Ben Lamm is the mind behind the tech tat, a skin-mounted chipset that combined with conductive paint can collect, store, send and receive data while living on the human body in the form of a tattoo. John Davidson

The company has not said when it plans to put the first generation of tech tats on the market. Currently, its tech tats must be applied by hand. First, the special ink is painted on the skin with a brush. Then the small hardware components are fixed onto the area; they are tiny enough to require tweezers for application. But Chaotic Moon anticipates the version it will sell to consumers would come in a package similar to a box of Band-Aids and be applied like a temporary tattoo—with just some pressure and a little water.

"This is really going beyond what the fitness tracker is," says Eric Schneider, Chaotic Moon's creative technologist for hardware. "We're right now looking into the medical field specifically, because there's a lot of monitoring devices that take up a lot of room and space." Schneider's group believes tech tats could become useful to physicians wishing to monitor a patient's vital signs for days or weeks after surgery in an unobtrusive and reliable way. Currently, a physician looking to track a patient's heart rate will send the person home with a cardiac monitor—usually an unwieldy device worn around the neck.

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The tech tats could also be useful in preventive care. "Rather than going to the doctor once a year for a physical, this tech tattoo can be something that you just put on your body once a year, and it monitors everything they would do in a physical and sends that to your doctor, and if there's an issue they could call you," says Schneider.

In Focus

Photos: New Smart Tats Take Health Tracking to the Next Level

Tech tattoos are made from small pieces of hardware that connect with electricity-conducting paint and tiny chips that collect data.
Launch Slideshow 8 PHOTOS

Tech tats could even change the way consumers make financial transactions, providing a more secure and faster way to pay for things by simply tapping your wrist at the supermarket register instead of opening up your wallet. They could also, for example, replace paper tickets at amusement parks and movie theaters—after purchasing your ticket online, all you'd need to do to gain entrance is tap the tattoo on a scanner. The concept could even be applied to everyday challenges such as getting through airport security.

And, of course, the company hopes the cool futuristic aesthetics will be a selling point. The developers have even created one prototype of a tech tat it hopes to make, with animation activated by the wearer's movements.

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