Google wants tattoos to act as smartphone microphones


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Google already has Google Glass, but now it’s taking the wearable technology concept a big step further: It’s developing an electronic skin tattoo for the throat that can act as a microphone for a smartphone, tablet or other device.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
This drawing from a Google patent application shows where the electronic tattoo might be placed on a user’s neck for communicating via a smartphone or gaming device.

Throat microphones were first worn by pilots during World War II to improve wireless communications between the ground and personnel on noisy airplanes.

Now, Google’s Motorola Mobility unit plans to put the microphone on a person’s throat via an electronic skin tattoo. The tattoo would communicate over Near-Field Communications, Bluetooth, Infrared or other short-range technology to a nearby smartphone, tablet, wearable computer, gaming device or other mobile computer.

The company filed U.S. patent application 13/462881 on Nov. 7 for “Coupling an electronic skin tattoo to a mobile communication device.”

The inventor is listed as William Albert Jr.

Benefits of such a device

The tattoo could include an embedded microphone as well as a transceiver for enabling wireless communications with a nearby smartphone. It could also have a power supply to receive energy from another place on the user’s body, according to the patent filing.

A throat microphone embedded in an electronic tattoo could help reduce street noise and other nearby sounds that often enter microphones and distort communications.

The application also describes using an electronic tattoo in other ways, including placing it on the throat of an animal to pick up sounds or as a display with a user interface. A specific movement of the throat could cause the display to light up.

The skin tattoo could even include a galvanic skin response detector to act as a lie detector. “It is contemplated that a user that may be nervous or engaging in speaking falsehoods may exhibit different galvanic skin response than a more confident, truth telling individual,” the application says.

Google didn’t respond to a request to comment on the patent application.

Analysts said the concept fits into a general trend toward using voice commands as an interface with computers.

“If this concept gets productized, it means that consumer will have a much-improved, hands-free-experience,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Moorhead noted that the military already actively uses throat microphones.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said World War II pilots benefited from microphones attached to their throats to cancel out noise. But a tattoo on a throat?

“I’m not sure how many users would be willing to get a tattoo just to have a conversation on their phones,” Gold said. “Some might think it’s cool, but mass market?”

Part of the motivation for making the patent application is just the sheer explosion in mobile devices and the need to create new technologies to compete.

“This application shows that vendors are thinking outside the box to find new ways to solve some problems,” Gold said. “You’ll likely see a whole lot more experimentation for input-output methods and some will catch on in the next three to five years.”

It could take years for the new Motorola patent application to be reviewed and possibly approved.

This story, "Google wants tattoos to act as smartphone microphones" was originally published by Computerworld.

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