Smart Tattoos Are They The Future?

by Andrea Darby - Master Medical Tattooist & Industry Educator

There are signs that Smart Tattoos may become an integral part of our future for a variety of purposes, art may be poised to cross over into function as technology catches up with the humble tattoo.

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Traditionally body art tattoos have been regarded simply as a form of self adornment, and whilst tattoos have had their fair share of controversy, technology seems poised to take the humble tattoo to an new level of controversy that might surprise even the most hard core tattoo enthusiasts.

In June 2012 the Third International Nanomedicine Conference was hosted by the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia and Professor John Pickup, a clinician and professor in diabetes at King’s College London, discussed the medical applications that smart nanoparticles might be able to offer.

Professor Pickup is reported to have said; "I think the non-invasive smart tattoo concept is probably what excites people most of all, Patients with diabetes want to be free of finger-prick blood glucose sampling."

Nanoparticles are extremely small and whilst there is not an internationally accepted definition it is generally accepted that a particle with at least one dimension less than 100 nm in size is a nanoparticle. A nanometre (nm) is 1/1,000,000,000 of a metre therefore a nanoparticle is 1/10,000 of a millimetre, like I said VERY SMALL!

Nanoparticles have some unusual physical, chemical, electrical, and colour properties and there is an intense amount research going on looking for ways to use these tiny particles for a whole range of applications. Nanomedicine for example could use smart nanoparticles for a wide range of monitoring applications either on the surface of the skin or even implanted into the skin.

Moving away from the microscopic world of nanoparticles and back towards sizes that can be seen with the naked eye there are also smart chips called RFID or Radio Frequency Identification chips that are small enough to be implanted into the skin.

An artist in New York named Anthony Antonellis has done exactly that, Anthony had a small RFID chip about the size of a grain of rice surgically implanted into the back of his hand and the chip has a small digital image (animated gif) loaded on it which can be read and displayed by a smart phone.



The actual image stored on Anthony Antonellis RFID chip can be seen below;

Anthony Antonellis Implant Image

The image can also be changed with the use of a smart phone and it requires no battery to operate it because it is simply a passive storage device that is powered by the magnetic field generated by the device that reads the image (the smart phone).

RFID chips are already considered to be important and sensitive pieces of technology by big business as the television show Mythbusters found out some time ago when they intended on doing a show on the subject. Adam Savage one of the shows co-hosts sparked the interest of the conspiracy theorists when he mentioned the show they "intended" to do on RFID technology when he spoke at the The Last Hope Conference.

Later on Adam is reported to have retracted some of his comments saying; "There’s been a lot of talk about this RFID thing, and I have to admit that I got some of my facts wrong, as I wasn’t on that story, and as I said on the video, I wasn’t actually in on the call."

No matter what the full version of the above events actually is, it is clear that big business takes RFID chip technology and its future very, very seriously.

In July 2013 another body hacker named Rich Lee from Nevada had small magnets implanted directly into his ears which act as implanted headphones, he embedded small magnets into cartilage just outside of his ear and he built a coil to be worn around his neck. Mr Lee said that this created a magnetic field that causes the implant to vibrate and make a sound and he is now considering connecting the device to a Geiger counter so that he can ‘experience the world of radiation’.

As advancements are made in the field of RFID chip size and storage capacity and also in the field of nanotechnology we predict that we will start to see numerous applications for the Smart Tattoo that go well beyond traditional body adornment. As macabre and foreign as it may seem to modify the human body by implanting and integrating technology with our own biology there are those early adopters who will push the boundaries of what we consider to be normal into a brave new world.


Date of most recent revision: 03/09/2013 (mutatis mutandis)
Original publication date: 03/09/2013

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The content of this article should be regarded as general information & is provided solely for the purpose of discussion & is not intended to replace cosmetic tattoo training or medical advice in any instance, always check with a cosmetic tattoo master trainer and or a qualified medical practitioner before acting on any information regarding cosmetic tattooing or in relation to any medical condition or medical circumstance.

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