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.