Brain and Body

“Electronic Tattoo” Can Monitor Muscle Activity and Map a Person’s Emotions

July 12, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Electronic tattoo that reads nerve and muscle activity
Photo credit: American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU). Image has been cropped

A tattoo that won’t leave you with regrets.

Reporting their research in the journal Scientific Reports, nerve cell researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a temporary “electronic tattoo” that is “poised to revolutionize medicine, rehabilitation, and even business and marketing research,” according to the press release.

The tattoo is made up of a carbon electrode (electrical conductor), a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that boosts the electrode’s performance, and an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin with minimal irritation.

The device was initially developed as an alternative to electromyography, which is an uncomfortable medical procedure that assesses the health of muscle and nerve cells.

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"Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity," Professor Yael Hanein, head of TAU's Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, said in a press release. "The idea is: stick it on and forget about it."

The researchers say that one of the tattoo’s key applications is its ability to receive electrical signals from facial muscles and more accurately map a wearer’s emotions by monitoring his or her facial expressions.

“The ability to identify and map people's emotions has many potential uses," Hanein said in the release.

"Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, and others — all want to test people's reactions to various products and situations. Today, with no accurate scientific tools available, they rely mostly on inevitably subjective questionnaires.”

In addition to self-reported evidence, which can often be faulty, researchers are turning to photos and smart software to analyze facial expressions and gauge emotions. "But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution,” says Hanein.

“We demonstrated a new route towards recording emotions, opening up new opportunities in digitizing emotions for clinical and social purposes,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The electronic tattoo has applications beyond mapping emotions, however. At the Tel Aviv Medical Center, it will be used to monitor the muscle activity of patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Even further, Hanein says that the physiological data measured in certain muscles could be used to indicate the alertness of drivers on the road, and stroke or brain injury patients could use the tattoo in rehab to improve their muscle control. In the future, amputees could even use it to move artificial limbs with remaining muscles, the researchers say.

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