The Future of Skin

Stretchable electronics and smart tattoos give human skin an upgrade from the future

[Image courtesy of John A. Rogers

Of all our human organs, skin is arguably one of the most abused — yet it’s also arguably the most reliable. It protects everything inside us, helping us avoid harm by sensing obstacles in our way, making sure we stay hydrated, and ensuring we keep ourselves at the right temperature. It constantly replenishes itself, sloughing off former layers that we’ve either burned or dried out or scraped or ignored, while new ones grow in their places.

Click here for a photo gallery of future skin technology for humans and machines.

Many of skin’s properties would be useful in other applications — like helping people with artificial limbs regain some of what they’ve lost. And an electronic skin, or at least some tactile sensory ability, could help machines understand the delicate differences in force that are required to grip an apple, a hand or a piece of steel.

Researchers trying to duplicate its beneficial properties are building teeny stretchable electronics that can give artificial limbs a real sense of touch.

And scientists are making several changes to human skin itself, turning it into a 21st century interface capable of much more than feeling another person’s caress. From conductive tattoos that turn skin into a human-machine communications device, skin is getting plenty of upgrades.

Click through to the gallery for a look at some recent breakthroughs in skin technology.