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Dead medium: Tattoos as media
From: jet@well.com (Richard Kadrey)
Source(s): Teresa Riordan, ABCNEWS.com

"Patently Weird: Embedded Tattoos"
By Teresa Riordan, ABCNEWS.com Patent Correspondent

"Picture Dennis Rodman, the resplendently-tattooed Chicago Bulls rebounder. Now try to imagine what Rodman would look like if all his tattoos could be digitally programmed, constantly morphing from one image into another.

"Once you get a fix on that psychedelic image, stretch your imagination a bit more: these tattoos are not etched into the skin but, rather, are liquid-crystal displays implanted beneath. They glow through the translucent skin, which acts sort of like a projection screen.

"Interval Research Corp., a high-tech R&D firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., has just received a patent that appears to cover exactly this kind of subcutaneous electronic tattoo.

"According to the patent, the tattoo could have a receiver embedded inside so that it could receive programming signals. Alternatively, the patent states, the tattoo could include 'a microelectrode port which receives programming information via acupuncture needles.'

"Skin Deep Information

"Alas, the company is rather uncommunicative on the subject of its new patent. Repeated calls to one of the inventors, software developer Andrew J. Singer, were never returned. Interval Research did fax a statement, acknowledging that the invention might have fashion and communications applications. (Perhaps the Maxwell Smart of the 21st century won't use a shoe phone == he'll just whisper directly into his wrist).

"But the fax also noted that the patent covers medical applications. Instead of wearing medical-alert bracelets, patients with life-threatening conditions could have those bracelets essentially implanted into their wrists. According to the fax, 'If the person became unconscious, this could be a place to display their vital signs and provide others with information on medical allergies, emergency information, etc.' For example, the subcutaneous bracelet could give ongoing readouts of blood pressure, body temperature or glucose levels.

"The company contends it is 'not doing anything commercially active with the patent at this time.' Nevertheless, company chairman David Liddle, who started Interval Research with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has recently hinted the company is developing 'wearable technology.' So if Rodman shows up on the court someday soon with an electronic tattoo, remember: You read it here first.

"The Patent Zeitgeist Skinny

"The Patent Zeitgeist notes that Interval Research isn't the only tattoo innovator to flex its patent muscles:

"#5,617,587 == Hosiery featuring tattoo-like appliques.

"#5,515,542 == A swimsuit that is opaque when dry but translucent when wet, except in == ahem! == strategic places. As a result, it looks like a very skimpy suit has been tattooed on.

"#5,578,353 == An admission ticket that doubles as a water-based tattoo. People leaving an event who want to return can moisten the ticket and apply it to the back of their hands as evidence that they're not gate-crashing.

"#5,652,959 -- A baseball hat with a stencil cut into the sizing band. When the hat is worn backwards, a suntan in the shape of the stencil will develop on the forehead.

"#5,421,765 -- A doll that can be tattooed."

(((bruces remarks: are digital tattoos "dead?" Probably not, but their Cahill Rating is off the scale == the implications for the future of "personal media" are just too peculiar not to think about. At the moment, digital tattoos as a medium are consigned to the purgatory of "not commercially active" == but they may be awaiting their chance to emerge in the glorious sunlit uplands of 21st- century subcutaneous computation.)))

J. Eric Townsend (jet@well.com)