Project Underskin

I am often asked what I think it will take for a wearable Health Tech device to be successful. I believe that the key to success will be “invisibility.” By this, I mean that the device has to work without the user having to think about it or fuss with it. It should be always ready, but not be intrusive unless it has some important information to convey. Our current crop of smartwatches has a long way to go to reach this level, but we’re making rapid progress on many fronts, from sensors to batteries to energy harvesting technology to wireless communications.

Last year, Fast Company worked with NewDealDesign to come up with a concept product that points to the next step in wearable technology. The result was Project Underskin. Perhaps the ultimate in wearable, the concept is an implantable device that places two displays under the skin of your thumb. One display is “public” and is placed on the back of your hand. The other is “private” and is placed on your palm at the base of your palm. The device would use wireless communications for a range of health, medical, and security applications. For example, a near-field communication system could work with electronic locks to verify your identity so that you could open your home door without a key. It also could prevent your credit card from being accessed unless you were holding it.

The concept relies on energy harvesting from your body to eliminate the need for batteries or recharging. It could incorporate a variety of biosensors that could trigger alert images on the skin displays for various health or medical situations. And you could even exchange contact information with someone else with the same system just by shaking hands.

This may sound like science fiction, but the designers believe that it could be a product in as little as five years. I expect that it could be here much sooner than that. A “second skin” flexible printed electronic “tattoo” that doesn’t require implantation could be here even sooner.