Friday, November 20, 2009

Glow-in-the-Dark Flashing Tattoos? Prosthetics With Neural Interfaces? They're Coming

"Implantable Silicon-Silk electronics could mean LED tattoos"
gizmag (November 11, 2009)

(from Rogers/Omenetto, via gizmag, used w/o permission)
"A clear silk film, about one centimeter squared, with six silicon transistors on its surface about to be implanted into a mouse (Photo: Rogers/Omenetto)"

"Tattooing dates back to at least Neolithic times and has experienced a resurgence in popularity in many parts of the world in recent years. Advancements in tattoo pigments and the refinement of tattooing equipment has seen an improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced. Today it's possible to get ink that glows under UV light, but a new technology could see tattoos that emit their own light. Researchers have been able to build thin, flexible silicon electronics on silk substrates that almost completely dissolve inside the body, paving the way for embedded LED tattoos that offer much more than just aesthetic appeal...."

It's "nanotechnology," in one sense, although the things are big enough to see: silicon transistors about a millimeter long and 250 nanometers thick. Before being implanted, they're held in place by a fine silk film, which the body later absorbs.

These days, we can pack quite a bit of circuitry on a chip a millimeter across - so in principle someone could have "EAT AT JOE'S" flashing on the back of his hand, picked out with little LED lights.

Or, more practically, a digital readout of current blood sugar levels. Hey, I might have one of these things in a few years. It would sure beat pricking my fingers a couple times a day.

Or, someone with a prosthetic arm or leg could control it more effectively, with an interface that had the person's nervous system on one side, a set of these little circuits just under - or in - the skin, and matching pickups on the prosthesis.

The American Food and Drug Administration has already approved silk for medical implants - and our bodies aren't likely to react with the gold, silicon, and titanium in the circuitry. The gizmag article doesn't mention it, but I'd think that these gadgets could get energy from our bloodstream, just like our cells do: so you wouldn't have batteries to change.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Tufts University in Medford, MA, and the University of Pennsylvania are developing this technology.

First Credit Cards and Bar Codes, Now This?! It Must be the Apocalypse!!

No, I don't think so. But I think it's likely that an odd lot of seriously freaked-out people from the weird end of the tree-huggers, Bible-thumpers, and other subcultures will be saying silly things about this sort of implant, as the news filters out.

Me? I think that, like all technology from the sharpened stick to DVDs, these implants can be misused. People aren't perfect. But I also think that gadgets like this could be very, very useful in medicine.

And for people who want to display their affection for JOE'S EATS on their hands - or foreheads.

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