Dattoos would be the ultimate user/machine interface


August 4, 2010

Dattoos would be printed onto the user's skin, and would identify the user via their DNA

Dattoos would be printed onto the user's skin, and would identify the user via their DNA

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Five years ago, Frog Design founder Hartmut Esslinger envisioned a technology that “could influence notions of community, identity, and connectivity with minimal impact on the physical environment.” Using an online design portal, users would select and try out a customized electronic processing device that they would then print onto their own skin. The DNA Tattoo, or Dattoo, could include printable input/output tools such as a camera, microphone, or laser-loudspeaker – it would be up to the user, as would the Dattoo’s aesthetics. Most intriguingly, it would capture its wearer’s DNA, to ensure an intimate user/machine relationship.

Conceived for the 2005 Forrester Consumer Forum, the Dattoo was a response to the still-increasing trend of self-expression through connectivity technology – in a sense, you could call it the ultimate smart phone skin. The idea was to “realize a state of constant, seamless connectivity and computability requir[ing] the convergence of technology and self.” This meant that the body itself would need to become the interface, and would supply the required energy. Because Dattoos would largely replace three-dimensional tools such as smart phones or laptops, the environment would be spared the costs of producing, transporting and disposing of those items.

Users in different geographical regions would be linked by common interests, and could communicate with one another, through their Dattoos. The unique DNA signatures would allow individuals to be readily identifiable, in a sense almost projecting users Second Life-style into cyberspace. Software would take a liquid form, in keeping with the Dattoo’s “organic computer” philosophy.

Despite evoking creepy Matrix-like images of permanent implants, Dattoos would actually be temporary and minimally-invasive. They could even be applied to clothing or other objects, instead of the skin. At the end of the day, they would simply be washed off. The next day, depending on what the user planned to do, they could order up and apply a new one.

Besides DNA-reading/identification, cameras, mikes and speakers, Esslinger’s ultimate vision was one of Dattoos that included nanosensors and interactive Braille-like "touch reading,” pattern and image recognition, self-learning and educational applications, living materials that change shape and feel, flexible OLED displays, bionic nano chips and cyborg components.

In the past five years, we’ve definitely gotten closer to Dattoos becoming more than just a concept. An example from this year is the Skinput, an experimental system that allows users to control electronic devices via a display projected onto their arm.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Incredible that this man could come up with the concept only a few years after Peter F Hamilton describes it in vivid detail in his Commonwealth Series of novels which were originally published from 2002 onward.


Haha! Great call Drew_1 - I was going to say the same thing. Funny thing is, Hamilton is never very good at coming up with nifty names for his (numerously brilliant) ideas. Dattoo is definitely a winnar!


Yeah, it\'s kind of amazing, many of the ideas in Hamilton\'s novels hae been featured here, e.g. rejuvenation.

Russ Karlberg

I know this is probably a niggling point, but for almost all men (especially the more hirsute), and a good many women, wearing the dattoos as shown in the photos, would require people to shave their forearms wouldn\'t it?

Otherwise, (unlike real tattoos) the adhesion would be poor and lay very uneven. Wouldn\'t it?


Does it have to have such dramatic size? What about the most conservative people who hates tattoos?

Chi-Che Chan

I think they did a social experiment to identify groups with tattoos in Germany back in the 30s and 40s...yeah... that didn\'t go over so well...


I wouldn\'t think the size would have to be that big. Looks to me, to be pretty much up to the user how big it is, just like the design, dynamic and so so cool. And I\'ve never much liked tattoos in the past.

Terry Penrose

Tattoos are so ghetto.


Wow, I sure want to look like that guy. You can tell it is the future with the \"Rad\" clothes and hair. The chick looks like Medusa and Bro, 1985 called and wants thier pants back. At least we can all rest comortably knowing that \"wife beater\" tee shirts will last into the future


JLR: Yeah, tattoos are so ghetto that about a third of new doctors have them... oh wait, that pretty well means they aren\'t ghetto anymore. Oh, and speaking of 1985 calling and wanting things back, who calls things ghetto these days?

This would be better if it integrated a brainwave control interface. You could get around conductivity and skin movement and conductivity issues, and would work on necks, under ears and on foreheads where people usually have less hair. Heck, it could even be a good excuse to shave and try a wig.

I could also see this as a good monitoring system. Hospital patients could get a Dattoo that tracks heart rate instead of using bulky senors. People working with hazardous materials could track exposure to chemicals or radiation over several weeks. Instead of some sort of ankle GPS for parole you can get a temporary ankle \"tattoo\" that is easy to cover and go about getting your daily life back on track.

Charles Bosse
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