Not comfortable in your own skin? Don’t fret. Researchers across the globe are pursuing and developing a new technology called e-skin to usher in a world where all electronics are as wearable as, well, your own skin. Considering that we already have seven layers of it, you might say we’re about to be due for an eighth.
Using human skin as their template (as unnerving as that might sound), e-skin’s creators are hoping that this newly developed ultra-thin material will revolutionize how humans interact with the world. And apparently how we look in it, too.
Just as innovations of the past have differed according to their geography, the e-skin comes in a variety of forms:
A team at the University of California, Berkeley developed a model that’s user-interactive as it responds to the pressure of human touch by emitting light.
Another, that’s as light as a feather, emerged from the minds at the University of Tokyo.
And another variant being finalized at the University of Texas at Austin looks like a Trekkie’s response to a bandage.
Considering how tech innovations develop at the speed of thought, there must be a hundred other versions already in development somewhere. Very soon e-skin will allow doctors to monitor a patient’s health electronically, enable gestured interactivity with all digital devices in our homes, and give us one more reason not to get our work done.
Also, e-skin expands the horizons for tech-inclined art-makers. Serving as a muse of sorts, The Creators Project has come up with seven ways artists may use this budding technology in years to come―one for each layer of skin.
Programmable Tattoo Mods & Displays
LED tattoos, as pictured above and developed by John Rogers, are cool and all, but getting light displays implanted under your body’s largest organ sounds like something most people would want to avoid. E-skin could change that by offering a pain-free way to showcase an array of lights on any surface of the body. Best part is that it wouldn’t be permanent.
More creative users could program their e-skin tatts to mimic computer wallpaper, looping images on a timer or based on times of day. GIF artists would also have the means to use themselves as a canvas for their work for the first time ever, and it could look something like this.
Omnidirectional cameras provide users with a 360-degree field of view not afforded by traditional models. But as you can see above, they don’t always provide the full range promised.
Once e-skin is more advanced, there’s no reason why it couldn’t function as a hands-free camera. A full body e-skin suit, then, could double as a full body camera, giving the world something it’s never seen before: human-directional cameras. The resulting photographs, perhaps dubbed “bodyramas,” could be viewable through an interactive computer program similar to what Voxelo allows users to do with 3D video. Just picture what a skydiving photographer would be able to capture with an e-skin setup. And you thought Google Glass was invasive!
Covered in a suit of e-skin, graffiti artists would have a new, ever-evolving canvas they can add to their portfolio. Instead of spray cans or moss, their tool of choice would become the light pen or index finger. Artists would be able to expand the surfaces they work on without damaging property or facing risk of arrest.
Networked e-skin would also make it possible for graffiti artists the world over to draw on wearers of the tech no matter where they may be located.
Headset mics, and a varied bunch of other hands-free microphones, have made it a lot easier for a performer’s mobility onstage, but think of the freedom e-skin could provide. E-skin is moisture-resistant, so perhaps a small strip on the tongue, or on a lip, could function as a transducer that doesn’t obstruct a singer’s face, won’t be a hassle to transport on tour, doesn’t anchor a performance down to any one part of the stage, and could offer capabilities to alter voices on the fly for aesthetic reasons.
In cases of studio recording, traditional microphone setups might still be necessary, but popstars might never need to wear anything heavier than a feather on stage again. Heck, it might even help fight the scourge known as lip-synching.
With the ability to monitor health functions, the e-skin could just as easily be programmed to send recorded sounds of a person's heartbeat to a smartphone or laptop. From there an entrepreneurial DJ would have the opportunity to scratch their heart-beats in addition to or alongside the other beats they're dropping. BioBeats, a startup, has been exploring this avenue for a few years now but with e-skin they could do away with the smartphone altogether.
One-Person Movie Studios
Technology has made it possible to pursue the making of feature-length films without having to hire 300 people. Cutting out the middlemen, filmmakers can now conceptualize, write, shoot, edit, and master their own films from their home office. But what if the pursuit could be further reduced so that any one person looking to make a film could do it with the help of e-skin?
That’s not to say that all films will one day be made this way or will even turn out very good, but the possibility is at least interesting. Equipped with e-skin, a film auteur could shoot a scene while being able to focus on another task, such as the supervising of a script, and all without the need for batteries or wires. The complexity of shooting a film might make it so that one-person productions are never feasible, but an e-skinned cinematographer could cover scenes in ways never before possible.
Coffee Table Concerts
Digital Domain’s computer-generated likeness of hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur looked as real as the fear many people expressed for having ventured into some scary technological tipping point. But holograms performing on a festival stage might just be the beginning of this trend.
With e-skin wrapped around members of your favorite indie band--by their own choice, of course--their concert could potentially make its way to your coffee table. With a projector, of which models now exist that can be attached to your smartphone, and adequate amounts of e-skin and foresight, a similar phenomena could take place on any surface― even from the comfort of one’s home. Musicians could give fans the option to be their own personal Ed Sullivan.