As fun as it is to watch things go boom in slow motion, high-speed cameras are more useful as educational and research tools, revealing phenomena that are otherwise imperceptible to the naked human eye, like the weird way old plasma TVs would display a single frame of video by flashing various parts of the image in multiple passes.
This isn’t the first time The Slow Mo Guys have pointed their high-speed cameras at a TV screen. In a video from 2018, they compared how modern LCD and OLED TVs display video—drawing images from the top of a screen to the bottom—to how old CRTs would generate each frame by drawing images line-by-line and pixel-by-pixel while relying on human persistence of vision to create a full image in our minds.
Somewhere between those technologies, we got TVs featuring plasma display panels which offered a lot of the same benefits that modern OLED screens do over LCDs. The on-screen pixels were made up of tiny cells filled with an ionized gas that self-illuminated when electricity was applied. As a result, plasma TVs didn’t need backlights nor suffer from issues like light leak, resulting in excellent contrast ratios and black levels that were darker than LCD TVs could muster. But plasma TVs actually worked a lot differently when generating images than LCDs, OLEDs, and even CRTs do, as The Slow Mo Guys discovered in their latest video that uses high-speed photography to reveal how 3D TVs functioned.
Instead of turning on every self-emissive pixel at the same time—which would be blinding—plasma display panels would instead illuminate different areas of the screen in fast pulses, up to 10 times for each frame, to quickly build up what the human brain would perceive as a single solid image. In the case of the plasma TV The Slow Mo Guys photographed, it was marketed as a 480Hz display which meant that while it actually operated at 60Hz, every frame generated was made up of eight shorter pulses.
Unlike with an LCD or OLED TV, at no point does slow-mo footage of a plasma display reveal an entire frame, but it’s the only way to see how this unique technology actually worked. As much as home theater enthusiasts loved plasma TVs, which were some of the first big-screen flat sets available, they’re a technology that’s no longer available thanks to improvements in LCD TVs, but mostly because OLED screens offer the same benefits with less power usage, slimmer profiles, and lighter sets that are much easier to hang on a wall.
One of the marquee features of Apple’s 12.9-inch Pad Pro for 2021 is its Liquid Retina XDR display, a screen tech that you might have previously seen mentioned in relation to the super-expensive Pro Display XDR monitor that Apple also sells. But what exactly do all these terms mean?
Let’s start with the term Retina, which Apple uses with both the Pro Display XDR and the new iPad Pros, and which has been used on Apple products for years at this point. It’s a bit of marketing speak Apple has invented to signify a certain level of resolution and crispness on a display, and it’s been used across several different products in the Apple range since the term was introduced with the iPhone 4 in 2013.
There’s actually no fixed standard for what makes a display a Retina one, but broadly speaking, it’s supposed to be a resolution high enough that the human eye can’t distinguish between individual pixels. Obviously, that’s going to vary depending on how far your eyes are from the screen as well as how tightly packed the pixels are.
Nowadays, just about every bit of Apple hardware qualifies as Retina, which is why you’ll now see extra words like “liquid” tacked on as well—the Liquid part of Liquid Retina on the iPad Pro listings just means even more pixels per inch, and even less chance of your eyes seeing any pixelation no matter how close you bring the screen up to your face.
But what about the XDR part? This again is something Apple has cooked up itself for its own products, and you won’t find any other manufacturers using the term for their own screens. In the simplest terms, XDR is an enhanced version of HDR (High Dynamic Range) that extends its benefits.
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HDR keeps the darkest parts of a screen and the lightest parts of a screen visible at all times through a range of different brightness balancing tricks. The idea is that detail is visible in the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights, even if both are shown on a display at the same time.
The key to HDR is having a very high contrast ratio, or the difference between the blackest blacks and the whitest whites that a display can put out. With XDR, Apple has pushed that range even further. The Apple Pro Display XDR can manage 1,000 nits of full-screen, sustained brightness, and a peak of 1,600 nits, resulting in a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.
Part of the secret of managing this is having a finely tuned backlighting control system, so really bright pixels can sit next to extremely dim pixels with no bleed. On the Pro Display XDR, Apple says it does this through a combination of advanced LED technology, intelligent (and faster) image processing, and light shaping (or controlling how light is emitted). The monitor has a total of 576 LED zones behind it.
There’s also a P3 wide color gamut and 10-bit color depth (supporting 1.073 billion colors), with a resolution of 6016 x 3384 pixels (218 pixels per inch), and a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz. It also uses blue LED backlighting rather than the conventional white for better control and for better thermal management.
The Retina XDR tech in the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is going for similar end results, but approaching them in a different way. Here the display technology isn’t IPS LCD, as like is on the Pro Display XDR, but rather the up-and-coming miniLED. The idea is the same: There’s super-fine control over the brightness and dimming of individual pixels, so that very dark blacks and very bright whites are possible.
We’ve written more about miniLED display tech here, but basically it means the backlight zones behind an LCD display (like the 576 on the Pro Display XDR) can get much smaller still, for even better control and better color management. These miniature LEDs can be as little as a fifth of a size of standard LEDs, so the difference can be marked.
MiniLEDs are also seen in TVs and smartphones, and the tech being developed in an attempt to get LCD screens closer to the high bar set by OLED displays. With OLED, every pixel is its own light source, no backlighting or local dimming required, but OLED remains expensive and difficult to manufacture. Innovations such as miniLED are an attempt to get the best features of both LCD and OLED panels.
While Apple’s premium iPhones now use OLED, the company has gone with miniLED for the larger iPad Pro model in order to qualify for the XDR label. It hits the same 1,000 nits maximum full-screen brightness, 1,600 nits peak brightness when playing HDR content, and 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio that the Pro Display XDR monitor does, but in a much more compact form.
It’s quite a technical achievement. The Pro models in the iPhone 12 range (with their OLED screens) can manage 1,200 nits peak brightness, while the (LCD) displays on the brand new 24-inch iMac top out at a maximum of 500 nits. Considering miniLED can manage better brightness levels than OLED, with less battery drain, it might be a while before Apple makes the switch to OLED for its tablets.
There are 10,000 miniLEDs packed into the 12.9-inch iPad Pro display, offering a total of 2,596 local dimming zones—a fantastic number for such a small screen. Rounding out the specs on this larger iPad Pro, we have the P3 wide color gamut, a 2732 x 2048 pixel resolution (264 pixels per inch), and a refresh rate that can go up to 120Hz.
The XDR label, then, is one that may well be worth spending the extra cash for when you’re choosing a new iPad—especially if you spend a lot of time working with images and video. While Netflix and Hulu will look perfectly fine on any Apple tablet, the extra brightness and contrast you get with XDR are likely to appeal to creative professionals.
Particle is a component company for hobbyists and IT specialists that makes network-connected parts for DIY projects. For years they made mostly wifi devices, allowing users to connect things like robots and 3D printers to the internet. Now, they’ve announced a new system that offers global cellular connectivity for the price of the hardware.
The new EtherSIM hardware includes a $69 start kit for experimenters that includes an antenna, a system-on-chip card, and a breadboard. The SIM card and cellular connectivity are built-in and activate when you plug the board into a power source.
The EtherSIM solution is especially interesting because it offers cellular connectivity without overage charges.
“With the launch of EtherSIM, Particle’s cellular data plans are now baked into the subscription fees you pay for use of our platform,” they write. “But while those fees might work for customers delivering an IoT product at scale who have worked out their business model, they can be cumbersome in the early stages of development when you don’t yet have your own customers and revenue.”
To combat this problem, the company made connectivity to up to 100 devices free with no time limit, a boon for hobbyists.
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Other companies like Adafruit make cellular break-out boards for devices like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Instead, Particle’s entry-level system is based on the Nordic nRF52840 chip, which is essentially a tiny computer on a single chip.
The most important part? The EtherSIM boards range from $70 to about $102 and can be embedded into almost any electronics project. Add in a rechargeable battery and a few sensors, for instance, you’ve got an instant weather station, GPS tracker, or robotic brain.
The Etch a Sketch toy has gone more or less unchanged for over 60 years, but if you’re handy with a soldering iron you can build an upgraded version that swaps aluminum powder for glowing LEDs. You’re still stuck with the challenge of drawing using just two spinning knobs, but when you screw up, a motion sensor lets you vigorously shake the toy to erase your mistakes.
If you head over to Hackster.io you’ll find a complete tutorial on how to create one of these yourself, including a complete parts list (you’ll need a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, an Arduino Nano R3, a pair of rotary encoders, and a 64 x 64 RGB LED panel, among other things), the requisite code to make it all work, and even the models for 3D-printing a custom frame to make the final product look professional.
The implementation of the shake to erase functionality might be the best part of this build. When a six-axis motion sensor detects the device is being shaken, it randomly turns off five illuminated pixels, so as with the original toy, the more elaborate your drawing is (and the more aluminum powder you’ve etched away) the longer you’ll have to shake the device to completely erase it.
One of the many reasons to upgrade a classic toy like this is to add some shortcuts. So if you can’t muster the energy to vigorously shake it (let alone get out of bed) a button on the front can be held for two seconds to blank the screen and reset the location of the origin to the bottom left corner. How many times as a kid did you go to the effort of erasing the original Etch A Sketch only to discover the drawing tip was in the wrong place when you started to turn those dials? No one needs that kind of stress after getting through 2020.
‘Tis the season to upgrade your home gaming setup. With tech deals going left and right, you’ll find no shortage of options when it comes to things like monitors. Here’s another one to add on to your list of possible purchases. A pair of 27″ LG UltraGear gaming monitors are on sale at Best Buy. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’re getting with this: a 2560 x 1440 display, 144Hz refresh rate, 1 ms of response time, and G-Sync technology to help cut down on screen tear. For gamers who don’t care too much about pushing their games to the ends of the Earth with ungodly resolutions ad refresh rates, the UltraGear is a great balance of the two. making for a solid gaming option.
This story was originally published by Giovanni Colantonio on 11/29/2020 and updated with new information on 03/11/2021.
This strange little device may look unassuming—after all, it’s a nod to William Gibson’s famous cybernetic dolphin, Jones. But Flipper Zero, a pocket-sized, dolphin-themed hacking tool, can actually open NFD-based locks, hack access points, and even send keyboard commands to unsuspecting laptops and PCs.
The Flipper Zero is an Arduino-compatible board that features an NFT reader and transmitter, an RFID transmitter, and even an IR blaster. This means you can read and transmit data from simpler key cards and even simulate so-called iButtons, those little round metallic keys used in some security gates. The company describes it as an “open-source multi-tool device for researching and pentesting radio protocols, access control systems, hardware, and more.”
The $200 device, available to preorder on Kickstarter, can be used for some pretty nefarious purposes, though many of the examples given, like opening a garage gate, are probably not actually possible with this hardware—especially with modern security systems. However, for ethical hackers, it could be a useful tool for testing your own security and experimenting with RFID, NFC, and IR connectivity. Add in the hardware connections and the wireless and wired data connections and you’ve got an interesting little product for programmers and those who like to crack hardware at home.
What’s more interesting is the fact that this has all of these transmitters on a box the size of a cigarette lighter. The Flipper Zero carries its branding over to a clever little dolphin-themed interface, along with programmable plugins that you can edit using an Arduino IDE. Finally, you can use it as a hardware development tool thanks to a set of pinouts on the bottom.
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Flipper Zero has been pretty successful so far, raising more than $4 million on Kickstarter, and the team is currently offering preorders on a second manufacturing run. The usual concerns are plaguing the project and they missed their February 2021 ship date already, but the company wrote that they expect to start shipping a small run of devices in March and April. An email to the company regarding shipping for the preordered second batch went unanswered as of press time.
As usual with Kickstarter devices, buyer beware, but the device does seem pretty cool on its face, especially if you like to hack on hardware in your spare time.
Pour one out for all the horny folks in Utah, y’all. The state’s legislature has passed its baffling “porn filter” bill, which would mandate a default filter for “material that is harmful to minors” on all tablets and smartphones sold in the state beginning in 2022.
House Bill 72—its official title—passed the state Senate this week in a 19-6 vote with four absences, as first spotted by XBIZ. In February, the Utah House of Representatives sanctioned the bill after it narrowly scraped through a committee vote with a 6-5 margin. Now it’s headed to the desk of Utah Governor Spencer Cox for final approval.
Under this legislation, tech manufacturers would be forced to enable default filters on their products sold in the state that “prevent the user of the device from accessing material that is harmful to minors” until the user chooses to deactivate it. Rep. Susan Pulsipher, a Republican with an education background and zero technology experience, introduced the bill in December, and it’s been significantly watered down since then, if you can believe it. The original version called for penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation, which have since dropped to just $10 (with a $500 cap) after pushback from other House members and free speech activists. The bill’s current version also contains a very important stipulation: It will only become law in Utah after at least five other states adopt similar measures.
Lawmakers in the predominantly Mormon state have headed an anti-porn crusade in recent years, declaring porn a “public health crisis” in 2016 and pushing for internet service providers to roll out similar filters to those approved with HB 72. Last year, legislators passed a law without the governor’s approval that forces adult websites to put up warning labels regarding the “obscene” nature of their content.
Given the ubiquitousness of porn on the internet, I’m not entirely sure how Utah lawmakers expect to win this fight. Even with all their bureaucratic pearl-clutching, the state ranked 34th in the U.S. for Pornhub traffic in 2016. But while legislators’ overly high-minded efforts to censor all NSFW content online may sound ridiculous, these uber-conservative laws could still pose some headaches for both consumers and tech giants. Experts say international manufacturers could face civil liability if they fail to comply with Utah’s ordinances, per XBIZ. And free speech advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, have called attention to what they argue are glaring First Amendment violations and constitutional overreaches these faith-based regulatory measures entail.
It’s hard to call an $800 gaming monitor “reasonably” priced—even one that looks good and delivers on its promises of “overwhelming speed.” So let’s just say the LG UltraGear 27GN950 is less unreasonably priced than some of the competitors in its spec range.
But the relatively affordable price isn’t what makes the LG 27GN950 stand out. It’s the speed. With a 144Hz refresh rate (now overclockable to 160Hz thanks to a firmware update), LG’s Nano IPS technology (which, among other things, allows for a 1ms response time), and support for both Nvidia G-Sync and AMD FreeSync, this is the fastest and most responsive 4K monitor on the market. Or, at least, it will be until it’s supplanted by the LG UltraGear 27GP950 in April. So far, it seems like the 27GP950’s main upgrade will be support for HDMI 2.1, so if that’s crucial for you, then read no further.
But the LG UltraGear 27GN950 is very, very good.
LG’s 27-inch 4K UHD display uses “Nano IPS,” which is the company’s improved IPS technology. A layer of nano-particles absorbs excess light, allowing for both a wider color gamut and faster response times. IPS displays are known for their less-than-impressive input lag, and without additional technology such as Nano IPS or Samsung’s Quantum Dot, the speediest response time you can get on IPS is about 4ms. A 4ms response time is still pretty quick, and definitely fast enough for most gamers, but 1ms is even better.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that plugging this monitor into your PC guarantees a smooth, seamless, ultra-speedy 4K experience, especially not in every—or even most—situations. To take full advantage of this monitor, you’ll need a powerful graphics card as well as a DisplayPort 1.4 connection, not to mention 4K content. But the full, speedy, low-latency experience is definitely possible if you’ve got the right hardware and software.
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The LG UltraGear 27GN950 does not support HDMI 2.1, which is a little wild considering this was launched in the second half of 2020. The Asus PG27UQ doesn’t support HDMI 2.1 either, but it’s two years old, so that’s more understandable. The LG 27GP950 will support HDMI 2.1, though, so that’s good news for console users. Both next-gen consoles feature HDMI 2.1; you can plug your peripherals in via HDMI 2.0, but your refresh rate will be limited to a measly 60Hz. It’s much easier (at least, for me) to justify spending hundreds on a big, pretty, lightning-fast display if I know it will work with multiple pieces of hardware.
And the LG 27GN950 is definitely big and petty. The display itself is beautiful, with an unmarked, ultra-thin bezel under an edge-to-edge screen with a silky-matte finish. And it’s bright—not as bright as the most premium displays, but it has a VESA DisplayHDR 600 certification, meaning it delivers at least 600 nits in HDR mode (it’s definitely more like 750 nits). It’s also got a slightly wider color gamut thanks to the Nano IPS technology, and this is evident especially in HDR. As a display, the LG 27GN950 looks pretty good—but just pretty good.
While the LG 27GN950 does offer a decent contrast ratio in HDR (and very mediocre contrast ratio in SDR), it’s still just too bright overall. This seems to be due, in part, to the fact that the screen is edge-lit with selective local dimming instead of sporting the more precise (and pricier) full array local dimming. The 27GN950 has about 16 dimming zones, which is better than one, but is nowhere close to the 384 zones of a monitor with full array local dimming.
The other issue that seems to be affecting light leak is the LG 27GN950’s build quality. This monitor is big and sleek and it’s got plenty of premium touches that denote its flagship status, but it’s also ultimately constructed entirely of plastic. And not particularly sturdy plastic—one of the edges is definitely separating (and definitely contributing to the wonky backlight) on our review unit. This could be an issue with our review unit, especially because the unit is not brand new and was shipped around the world at least once, but it’s something to keep in mind. (Plus, it’s not just that edge that’s the problem.) The light leak and backlight inconsistency isn’t as egregious as I’m probably making it sound, but it is noticeable.
Design-wise, the LG27N950 has a sleek, minimalist display that looks very premium even when the edge is separating. There are no markings on the bezel, nor are there any buttons or power lights that can’t be turned off. It’s the perfect screen to blend seamlessly into an existing setup if you’re only looking at the monitor, alone, from the front.
But there’s more to this monitor than just a single, head-on view. For one thing, it comes with a stand, and while I love the monitor…I kind of hate this stand. The stand is definitely gamer-oriented: It’s black with red accents, and it consists of a large-ish sturdy column stabilized by two wide-set feet that are awkwardly attached to the front. There’s no branding on the bezel, but there’s plenty on the stand — on the column and on each awkward, blade-like foot. The stand has built-in cable management, which is simple but very easy to use. It also offers height adjustment (4.4. inches), tilt (5 to 15 degrees), and 90-degree swivel when you want to use the monitor in portrait mode. It does not, however, pivot at all. And this is even more of a hassle because the stand has such wide-set feet. It’s got a pretty big footprint, so I can definitely see this being a hassle. If it sounds a little like the Asus PG27UQ stand, that’s because it looks a little like that stand—but that stand pivots (and it also looks much more intentional and cohesive).
The back of the LG 27GN950 is the opposite of minimalist. It features UltraGear’s signature branding: a round backplate with red-accented venting, a stylized UltraGear logo, and a multi-colored LED ring that you can control via a dial on bottom of the monitor. This dial lets you control the light ring’s basic functions: power, dimming, and six lighting options (four solid colors and two multi-colored cycles, peaceful and dynamic). If you want to do even more, such as have the light sync with certain games or audio, you’ll need to download additional the LG UltraGear Control Center software.
Next to the lighting control wheel, there’s a joystick for navigating the OSD. I love this button placement — there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to guess which buttons are which while angling my hand behind a monitor so as not to upset my multi-monitor setup. The joystick is intuitive and easy to use, and the OSD features five menus: Game Mode, Game Adjust, Picture Adjust, Input, and General. Game Mode has eight preset display modes that can be tweaked to some extent in the other menus; there are also plenty of options for additional calibration, though this monitor is well-calibrated out of the box. LG offers additional software, LG OnScreen and LG Calibration Studio (plus the lighting control software), for more control. I won’t lie, it’s a little frustrating to juggle three extra programs plus the OSD. At the very least, it’d be nice if those programs were consolidated into one.
The monitor’s ports are all located on the back panel; they’re not hidden or obstructed, and they’re oriented perpendicular to the display. In other words, very easy to access, although they’d be slightly easier to access if the stand had any amount of pivot. There are two HDMI 2.0 ports, one DisplayPort 1.4, three USB 2.0 ports (one upstream, two downstream), and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Headphone users might find it a little annoying that the jack is on the back instead of the bottom/side for convenient access, but since the monitor has no built-in speakers, the jack placement does make it easier to manage cables if you’re plugging in external speakers.
It’s disappointing, if not totally unexpected, that the LG 27GN950 does not support HDMI 2.1, and for that reason alone I’d suggest waiting until the LG 27GP950 comes out, because it will likely be similar in price. Even if you aren’t a console player and you don’t plan on becoming one, it just makes sense to wait and see what LG has in store with the next iteration. Because the LG 27GN950 isn’t even a year old, we may see a price drop when the 27GP950 comes out. Right now, it’s still full price.
The LG UltraGear 27GN950 has some issues, but it does a lot of things very well. It’s absolutely fast, and when you’re overclocked and using that DisplayPort 1.4 connection, the quicker refresh rate and how all the visuals come together is noticeable, even if it may not be absolutely necessary. The colors looked good, if a little washed out due to the backlight inconsistency at times, and the HDR delivers beyond what I expected. The backlight inconsistency might not bother you if you’re playing bright, visually flashy games, but for darker, more subtly-toned games it’s pretty noticeable.
4K gaming is an investment, and the LG 27GN950 balances its speed and quick response times with acceptable, if not perfect, visuals better than other monitors I’ve seen. But the 27GP950 is coming out in April, so I don’t think you need to jump on anything just yet.
…Unless you’re a console player.
Bezel-less design is on point.
Wait and see if LG’s 27GP950 is a better fit (or if the 27GN950 goes on sale).
For Netflix binge-watchers who may be concerned that a giant TV would overwhelm their living room’s vibe, fear not: The 165-inch C SEED M1 is a massive folding display that completely disappears into the floor when not in use. Unfortunately, installation looks like a giant pain—and that’s assuming you survive the sticker shock.
Unlike companies like LG, which have used flexible OLED screen technology to deliver giant TVs that can discreetly disappear into an unassuming box when not in use, C SEED instead uses microLEDs. MicroLEDs, which many consider to be the future of screen technology, combine the best features of the current leading screen technologies with self-illuminated RGB pixels that don’t require a backlight, and without the degrading organic compounds that are used to manufacture OLED displays. The new screen tech is also more energy efficient, allows for slimmer screens, and can produce whites and blacks that rival the best TVs currently on the market.
The only downside is that microLED displays can’t fold like OLEDs can—at least yet. So to make a 165-inch TV disappear into the floor, C SEED has instead designed the M1 to first separate into five separate panels that fold into each other like a giant fan. That’s the other advantage of microLED screen technology: It allows much larger TVs to be assembled from smaller panels while perfectly hiding all the seams, so the final result looks like one giant uniform display.
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We’ve all seen “jumbotron” screens criss-crossed with black lines where smaller panels didn’t quite align perfectly, but C SEED promises that’s not an issue with the M1 thanks to a feature called Adaptive Gap Calibration, which senses when panels have slight offsets and automatically adjusts the brightness of edge pixels to hide any shadows that create those unsightly seam lines.
The C SEED M1, available in gold, black, or titanium finishes, can be yours for $400,000, but that doesn’t include the renovations needed to make a room ready for its installation. If you want the full effect of a giant TV screen that disappears into your floor, you’re going to have to get a contractor to ensure that it’s even possible for a room—and then there’s the room below it to consider if you live in a multi-floor home. If you live in an apartment or a condo in a tower, you’ll have to instead settle for other installation options, which include a giant box sitting on the floor for the M1 to collapse into, or matching decorative furniture for it to hide inside.
That sounds like a lot of work just to disguise a TV, but watching the C SEED M1 slowly rise up out of the floor and then unfold like the solar panels of a satellite that’s just reached orbit is mesmerizing. It almost makes having to wait a couple of minutes before you can actually watch TV seem not as inconvenient as it really is. Getting there is half the fun with the M1.
Tattoos are usually considered a form of personal expression, but a team of researchers in Europe have created what they’re calling the world’s first light-emitting tattoo based on OLED screen technology that, besides presumably looking kind of cool, could also serve as a visible warning about potential health concerns.
Tattoos are used by people to show their devotion to a long-extinct brand of MP3 player or letting everyone know just how much they love their moms. But there’s also a precedent for tattoos being used as a medical tool. Cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy are tattooed with small dots that are used as reference marks for precisely targeting the machines used for treatments during repeat sessions, for example.
The idea of personally augmenting one’s skin with glowing art isn’t new either, but previously this has involved biohackers implanting technologies like LEDs beneath the skin, and the results don’t have much practical use besides attention-grabbing or inviting questions about why someone would do that to themselves. This new approach to light-emitting tattoos is easier to apply, more practical, and temporary—without requiring surgery to have it removed.
In a recently published paper in the Advanced Electronic Materials journal, “Ultrathin, Ultra‐Conformable, and Free‐Standing Tattooable Organic Light‐Emitting Diodes,” scientists from the University College London in the UK and the Italian Institute of Technology detail how their new approach to tattoos relies on the same organic light-emitting diode technology featured in devices like more recent iPhones, as well as the recent crop of mobile devices featuring folding screens. The flexibility of an OLED display is important for this application given human skin is so pliable and flexes and folds as the body moves.
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The actual electronics of the light-emitting tattoos, made from an extremely thin layer of an electroluminescent polymer that glows when a charge is applied, measure in at just 2.3-micrometers thick, which, according to the researchers, is about one-third the diameter of a red blood cell. The polymer layer is then sandwiched between a pair of electrodes and sits atop an insulating layer, which is bonded to temporary tattoo paper through a printing process that isn’t prohibitively expensive. The tattoos can be easily applied to surfaces using the same wet transfer process that temporary tattoos designed for kids use, and can be easily washed off when no longer needed or wanted using soap and water.
With a current applied the OLED tattoos in their current form simply glow green, but eventually could produce any color using the same RGB approach that OLED screens use. However, while the researchers acknowledge that the potential for glowing tattoos is there, taking that art in a whole new direction, they also see even more potential for them as a medical tool. When combined with other wearable technologies the light-emitting tattos could start flashing when an athlete needs to rehydrate, or change color when applied to foods providing obvious warnings when expiration dates have passed.
But don’t stroll into your local tattoo parlor and demand one of those fancy new glowing tattoos just yet. The researchers have so far successfully applied them to surfaces like glass, plastic bottles, paper, and even oranges, but human skin poses a bigger challenge given how much humans are constantly moving around. The OLEDs polymers can also quickly degrade when exposed to the air, requiring additional layers to properly encapsulate and protect them, and there’s an even bigger issue of finding a way to power them using tiny batteries or supercapacitors, as so far in the lab they’ve been wired to an external power source, and it’s doubtful anyone is going to want to attach a USB power cable to the ink on their arms.