Charles Q. Choi, writing at Txchnologist and republished by io9, has written an article about an incredible new experimental technology -- temporary tattoos that can translate the product of thought into useful digital signal.
Commanding machines using the brain is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In recent years, brain implants have enabled people to control robotics using only their minds, raising the prospect that one day patients could overcome disabilities using bionic limbs or mechanical exoskeletons.
But brain implants are invasive technologies, probably of use only to people in medical need of them. Instead, Coleman and his team are developing wireless flexible electronics one can apply on the forehead just like temporary tattoos to read brain activity.
"We want something we can use in the coffee shop to have fun," Coleman says.
In past studies, Coleman's team found that volunteers could use caps studded with electrodes to remotely control airplanes and flew an unmanned aerial vehicle over cornfields in Illinois. Although the electronic tattoos currently cannot be used to pilot planes, "we're actively working on that," Coleman says.
These devices can also be put on other parts of the body, such as the throat. When people think about talking, their throat muscles move even if they do not speak, a phenomenon known as subvocalization. Electronic tattoos placed on the throat could therefore behave as subvocal microphones through which people could communicate silently and wirelessly.
"We've demonstrated our sensors can pick up the electrical signals of muscle movements in the throat so that people can communicate just with thought," Coleman says. Electronic tattoos placed over the throat could also pick up signals that would help smartphones with speech recognition, he added.
This stuff is really cool, and, being right around the corner, renders quite a lot of my standing sci fi assumptions useless. (One of my Clarion application stories makes roughly no sense given a world with this technology. Not that there's no way to patch that.)
Also, it seems to me a short step from telepathy-enabling temporary tattoos to telepathy-enabling permanent tattoos. Which I want. Very much.