Smart tattoos: Next big innovation in football performance?

WE all know the jokes about footballers and tattoos - but the link is about to become more about performance than fashion.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have developed a ‘data skin’, that can be used to measure things such as heart rate, blood oxygenation, temperature and adrenalin levels. Furthermore, this temporary tattoo can be produced quickly and cheaply using a home printer.

The possible uses for football training could be significant. Professor Carmel Majidi, who has led the development of the tattoos, explained: “One of the remaining challenges in skin-mounted electronics is to interface soft circuits with the rigid microchips and electronics hardware required for sensing, digital processing and power.

“We address this with a breakthrough digital fabrication technique that enables efficient creation of wireless electronics on a soft, water-resistant, medical-grade adhesive.”

The electronics contain rigid components you would typically see on a circuit board, such as transistors, microprocessors and power regulators, combined with soft deformable wiring that stretches and bends.

The method uses commercially available films to create wearable electronics. Majidi and his team created a fully functional ‘data skin’ in under an hour and claim the circuits can be produced for less than a dollar.

After use, the ‘data skin’ can be painlessly peeled from the skin and discarded.

“The next generation of personal electronics will be soft, stretchable, and stick to skin or clothing,” Majidi added. “Moreover, they can be produced at home with an inexpensive printer not unlike a desktop LaserJet.”

Mounir Zok
Biodegradable tattoos can be positioned anywhere on the body and pick up the vitals from that specific area Mounir Zok

Mounir Zok, the Director of Technology & Innovation for Team USA, said ‘smart tattoos’ are one of the most exciting areas of wearable technology.

“Biodegradable tattoos can be positioned anywhere on the body and pick up the vitals from that specific area,” Zok explained in the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.

“They have on them flexible transparent batteries and flexible transmission nodes that can transport the knowledge from the tattoo to a smart device that is in the vicinity to then communicate that to a remote control centre.

“There are so many applications, such as informing firefighters that area in a dangerous situation but might not be aware of the risk to life. You can extract them in proper time.

“When you’re talking about smart tattoos you’re talking about a thin film that can go past the skin and the body will absorb. Conductive ink can be drawn on the body and begin to generate electrical circuits directly on the body instead of the standard electronic chip that is glued to the body somehow.”

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