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E Ink Tattoo Concept

A Mobile App Controlled Tattoo Display


Inspired by the proliferation of smart watches that put real-time data on your wrist the Emerge team set out to explore the limits of “always on” connectivity. We wondered what the possibilities of a mobile app that controls an implanted display could be–a dynamic subdermal E Ink tattoo powered by your mobile app. Originally published as an April fools joke in our Insights section, this concept inspires viewers to ask themselves what will be possible in the near future.


While we based our concept mostly on readily available technology components, such as Nordic Semiconductor low energy circuits and Quallion Li-Ion battery arrays, the key component is the fictional subdermal bistable 2 pigment E Ink display system that would be implanted using the same method by which permanent tattoos are implanted. By placing the E Ink microcapsules right below the epidermis, the color-switching capsules can be seen through the skin, creating a grayscale display along a 4-inch by 6-inch area of the forearm.

Prior to E Ink’s development, a dynamic image display required a constant current of electricity, inevitably tying the longevity of the display to the power source. Like any other implantable wearable technology, adding a display to our body has been limited by the requirement on battery power. E Ink changed this by providing a medium that consumes energy only when the content of the display changes, not requiring a current to maintain the image on its display. The result would be a screen on our skin that displays information with very little energy usage.


We envisioned several different use cases focusing on utility, fitness and–of course–tattoo art. Then we designed and prototyped the mobile app to control the subdermal display.

Switch your tattoo anytime you want! Load up tattoos from the growing database of tattoo art straight to your body. Show off your mood, or load up that risque tattoo you’ve always wanted and clear it before you get to work the next morning.

Who needs an Apple Watch if you can have all the same information displayed directly on your body? Sync up the current time and date, battery level, upcoming calendar invites, and OS notifications (such as number of unread emails, SMS and missed calls). Stay on top of your playlist with Spotify, iTunes and Pandora integration that shows the current artist and track name, as well as player progress. You won’t miss anything urgent, since your tattoo will display incoming calls and SMS messages for 30 seconds after an incoming event.

Stay on top of your running and biking stats with real-time Strava integration! The display shows off all your current activity, such as activity time elapsed, current speed/pace, 60-second speed/pace history chart, and heart rate. If you’re rocking out to Spotify, iTunes or Pandora, the display also shows the current track and name of next track.

In the end our team had a lot of fun with this concept, which has garnered both viral exposure, media attention and over a quarter million views on YouTube. Read the original E Ink post in our Insights section.

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