For most people, a computer is a rigid box on a desk, or if a laptop at all, it’s square and hard. But we may have to say goodbye to this notion: researchers in the field of ubiquitous computing are already working on dividing computing power into ever smaller units that are intended to permeate our everyday lives inconspicuously, so to speak. Computers are to be integrated into our lives in the form of “wearable computing”, among other things. In this case, “wearable” means worn on the body: hidden in glasses, headphones or simply as a smartphone in your pocket, they should be at our service at all times and connect us to the digital world.
In this vision, bulky user interfaces such as keyboards, mice or screens would only be a burden. That is why scientists are working on alternative control options that can be worn directly on the skin. Jürgen Steimle from Saarland University, for example, is developing electronic foils that are so thin and flexible that they adapt perfectly to the shape of the body. As temporary tattoos, they allow the wearer to control a computer or read the output of an electronic device in the form of simple displays or tactile stimuli directly on the skin. Such foils can also be used to record physiological signals, transmit data wirelessly or perform simple calculations.For the past five years , the Laboratory for Human-Computer Interaction and Interactive Technologies headed by Steimle has been running a project in which the researchers are attempting to integrate different input and output options into wafer-thin foils. “A foil on the skin is an even more direct and natural form of interaction than, say, through clothing,” says Steimle. “The area around the fingers is particularly interesting because you can also use tiny gestures here, for example by touching your thumb with your index finger.” In order for the films to adapt to the complex and variable geometry of the fingers, they are usually only about one up to 20 microns thick and therefore almost imperceptible.