New 'e-skin' tech turns your body into a walking display

New "e-skin" technology would literally make it possible for you to wear emojis and more on your sleeve.

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Eric Mack
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A basic e-skin display.

Someya Laboratory

A new breakthrough could help pave the way to our transhuman future as cyborgs. Researchers in Japan have developed a super thin and flexible protective film that can be used to create electronic skin (e-skin) displays.

Why put a display on your body? The most obvious applications could be for health and training, with simple displays that adhere to a hand or arm and connect to wearable sensors to show measurements like heart rate or blood oxygen level right on the surface of your skin.

But that could be just the beginning.

"What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease?" University of Tokyo Professor Takao Someya, one of the researchers working to make a practical e-skin, asked in a release. "In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate."

So we could literally wear our heart emojis on our sleeves one day. Or, perhaps more precisely, we might wear our status updates on the skin beneath those sleeves.

Other types of e-skin have been developed for electronics or prosthetics, but the new film is designed specifically with flexible, wearable displays in mind. A paper on the new tech appears in Friday's edition of the journal Science Advances.

The specific advance that could one day turn us into our own social-media billboards is a new ultrathin and ultra-flexible film less than micrometers thick. In addition to being thinner and more flexible than the glass and plastics used in similar wearable devices, it is also impervious to air and moisture, making it possible to extend e-skin device lifetimes from just a few hours to several days.

Of course, wearing an e-skin display for a week straight is liable to make your real skin underneath pretty gross, especially if conditions get sweaty at all. But nobody said the transition from ordinary meatbag humans to digitally enhanced cyborgs sporting the latest emojis on our e-skin would come without sacrifices.