What Are Smart Tattoos and Are They The Future?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 9, 2020
    Last Updated: November 9, 2020

Tattoos have been around for at least 5,000 years, with Otzi the Iceman being the first documented case of humans permanently marking their bodies with ink. They started as ways to demonstrate hierarchy, establish a more formidable appearance, and highlight accomplishments.

Since then, they’ve developed into more artistic expression and a way to commemorate loved ones’ lives and about a million other things. Until recently, no one considered turning these forms of artistic expression into anything but that.

The tide might be turning. Researchers are diving into a litany of possibilities for tattoos, and the science is finally catching up. Are these smart tattoos indeed the way of the future? Keep reading, and we’ll let you know everything you need to about this potentially life-changing technology.


What Are Smart Tattoos?

Just like smartphones revolutionized what a phone could do, smart tattoos look poised to transform the applications of a traditional tattoo. Instead of being nothing more than an appearance modification, smart tattoos look to turn those artistic masterpieces (and sometimes artistic faux pas) into a functional piece of medical equipment.

Researchers are designing smart tattoos to monitor your body’s vitals consistently and provide a visible sign whenever something is amiss. Whether it’s insulin levels for diabetics or glucose levels for those with allergies, these tattoos can change colors and even send data straight to your smartphone.

While these tattoos aren’t available yet, Harvard has run several proof of concept experiments highlighting how close we are to making these devices a reality.

While those are the smart tattoos currently in development, future smart tattoos might employ even more features. Just as the phone and computer have evolved into devices with far more capabilities, smart tattoos might follow a similar progression leading to more innovative devices that can transform our lives.  

Pros and Cons of Smart Tattoos

With the current health craze of wearable health monitoring devices sweeping the country, it was only a matter of time until researchers and entrepreneurs alike started looking for the next big thing. Smart tattoos look poised to be that next big thing, but while they offer a multitude of advantages, they do have their drawbacks as well.

Pros

The advantages of smart tattoos are tremendous. Even compared to other wearable medical devices, smart tattoos have several distinct advantages.

First, they integrate directly into the body. Wearable devices have to obtain readings through the skin, electronics, and sometimes clothing. All of this can hinder results and makes it difficult for them to get accurate readings. Smart tattoos cut all of this out by integrating directly into your skin and getting readings straight from the source.

Furthermore, since we could integrate smart tattoos directly into more artistic designs, individuals can turn their medical devices into forms of self-expression instead of burdens that they have to carry around.

A Long-Lasting, Worryfree Device

Another advantage smart tattoo has over wearable devices is that they don’t require battery changes or charges. Some of the more straightforward smart tattoos are nothing more than color-changing ink that reacts to certain conditions; these act as permanent sensors that don’t need to be charged or replaced to stay effective.

These benefits aid smart tattoos in their primary objective; they provide instantaneous lifesaving information. Instead of waiting for results from a wearable device or worrying about keeping up with charges or matching outfits, tattoos are always working and feeding live data to the individual.

The user never needs to replace a smart tattoo; it’s a lifelong security feature and healthcare device. The most exciting part about smart tattoos is that since they’re still in development, the possibilities are endless. If you can dream it, they can work on building it.

Today it’s lifesaving medical innovations; tomorrow, smart tattoos might be replacing smartwatches with messaging features and music built right in. While that might be a stretch for the time being, who’s to say what the future holds? Here\s what we know so far:

  • Integrates directly into the body for more accurate readings
  • Can provide lifesaving information – immediately
  • Long-lasting and never needs replacing
  • Limitless possibilities
  • You can take control of your medical device

Cons

While smart tattoos offer significant and life-altering advantages, there are some concerns that we need to address if you’re considering getting a smart tattoo in the future.

The most notable drawback is that the technology for long-lasting, permanent smart tattoos simply doesn’t exist yet. There are promising signs that the technology will get there, but it might come with a few more hiccups and drawbacks that we can’t anticipate here just yet.  

Not all proposed smart tattoos are simple color-changing ink. Microsoft has invested in smart tattoos that can communicate through electronics directly to your mobile device. While these devices offer even more benefits than simple color-changing tattoos, they come with their own host of concerns.

For example, smart tattoos equipped with transmitting devices present significant privacy concerns if hackers take control of this signal. While manufacturers might design your smart tattoo to provide you with your health information, your date could be unwillingly collected and fall into the wrong hands.

Researchers expect smart tattoos to be just like their traditional counterparts; permanent. While that won’t turn off some people, and some might even see it as an advantage, not everyone wants a permanent tattoo. Because of this, you can’t expect smart tattoos to replace wearable devices, but only to supplement them. Here are a few of the risks:

  • Significant privacy/hacking concerns
  • Technology isn’t there quite yet
  • Permanent medical implants

Conclusion

The history of tattoos is full of exciting twists and turns, and by the looks of it, their future will get even more exciting. Smart tattoos can save millions of lives and provide much-needed information to individuals in real-time, without ever having to see a doctor.

While smart tattoos can revolutionize the healthcare industry, the sad fact is that researchers haven’t fully developed the technology yet. The concept has smart tattoos revolutionizing the healthcare industry, however, the finalized reality might be a tad bit different than we anticipate.