Tel Aviv U’s electronic tattoo said to read your face, and emotions

Electrodes that monitor signals from muscles and nerves provide info that can be used to gauge reactions

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Tel Aviv University's Electronic Tattoo (Courtesy: American Friends of Tel Aviv University)
Tel Aviv University's Electronic Tattoo (Courtesy: American Friends of Tel Aviv University)

Tel Aviv University has developed a new, temporary “electronic tattoo” that, by measuring the activity of muscle and nerve cells, is said to have has enabled researchers to map emotions by monitoring facial expressions.

The technology can be used for medical and rehabilitation purposes, and even for business and marketing research, by providing insights into our emotional life, TAU said in a statement.

The tattoo consists of a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin, and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that enhances the electrode’s performance. It records a strong, steady signal for hours on end without irritating the skin.

One major application of the new electrode is the mapping of emotion by monitoring facial expressions through electric signals received from facial muscles.

“Researchers worldwide are trying to develop methods for mapping emotions by analyzing facial expressions, mostly via photos and smart software,” said Prof. Yael Hanein, head of TAU’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, who developed the technology. “But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution.”

The technology could help advertisers and pollsters test people’s reactions to products and situations, she said.

“The ability to identify and map people’s emotions has many potential uses,” said Hanein. “Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals, and others — all want to test people’s reactions to various products and situations. Today, with no accurate scientific tools available, they rely mostly on inevitably subjective questionnaires.”

The tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity, said Hanein. “The idea is: stick it on and forget about it.”

The new skin electrode has important therapeutic applications as well: the tattoo will be used to monitor the muscle activity of patients with neurodegenerative diseases in a study at the Tel Aviv Medical Center. And in addition, the physiological data measured in specific muscles may be used in the future to indicate the alertness of drivers on the road; patients in rehabilitation following stroke or brain injury may utilize the technology to improve muscle control; and amputees may employ it to move artificial limbs with remaining muscles.

The electrode is the product of a European Research Council (ERC) project and received support from the Brain-Stimulation-Monitoring-Treatment (BSMT) Consortium of Israel’s Economy Ministry. The research was published last month in Scientific Reports and presented at an international nanomedicine program held at TAU.

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