The potential story concept I have needs a tattoo that can change colour. I was wondering how possible that might be given small advances in current technology. From research I've found the 'black light' tattoo that will appear only under certain light conditions and some articles where medical researchers were attempting to easily display a persons Glucose level by having a small indicator tattoo change colour. Not sure if this was achieved or not, the page only mentions the attempt.

The level of colour changing is also important. I'd rather go down the path of a black tribal style that can change shape by changing from black to transparent to alter the pattern or outline. Maybe by just tattooing a large area with small dots and then controlling the dots to be 'on' or 'off'. The other route of a more chameleon like multi colour active camouflage isn't really required for my concept.

Now I'm happy with small amounts of handwaving but I'd like it to be more plausible than 'magic tattoo ink'.


EDIT for clarity.

The change in shape/colour should be controllable by the person. I imagine it being something to do with mental state being able to control (or partially control) the body. Perhaps some form of meditation or mental state. I've read of people being able to control their own heart rate or people who undergo operations with no anesthetic as they can 'control' or 'ignore' the pain.

Now it may well be too far fetched even with handwaving to allow a person full control over all the dots to achieve any pattern they want all the time so maybe we have to default to a number of set patterns. So we end up with something like 'when calm or when using no thought' you have the default pattern but 'when angry or by using a small amount of concentration' you can change to a different pattern. I guess this would allow people with more control to have more available patterns to choose from so a master might seem to be able to change to anything they wanted just because they have a larger library of options.

On reflection using emotion is probably not a great idea because in general people can lose control of their emotions quite easily.

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    $\begingroup$ Look at the breaking news on understaning how Chameleons control their color. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chameleon#Mechanism_of_color_change $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 27 '16 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ Great; now I can’t get this out of my head. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 27 '16 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz I agree you don't want that in your head for too long! $\endgroup$
    – Paul7926
    Jul 27 '16 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Looking at that link (thanks) then perhaps I don't 'tattoo' people, instead I graft a new layer of skin that incorporates the effect. Might still work. $\endgroup$
    – Paul7926
    Jul 27 '16 at 9:52
  • $\begingroup$ Use sub vocal controls and you keep the required hand-waving to a minimum. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Aug 10 '16 at 22:42

Certainly it’s possible, and occurs in nature. Look at the skin of cuttlefish other cephalopods, Chameleons, and others.

I’ve always supposed that genetic engineering could be used to give squid-like display surfaces to other animals such as cows. But the interesting crystals used by chameleons could be adapted to technology and made with mems to give e-ink that doesn't need a backlight like current LCD technology.

As for e-ink, look at how that works now. What if the bi-colored nanoparticles was used as tattoo ink? You just need a way to make them flip over as desired. Maybe they can be magnets with the poles opposite colors? Then a very strong magnet would act as a stylus when drawn over the area.

As for controlling it, the embedded or wireless control module can use any kinds of sensors to decide what to display. Mood rings were a thing back in the 80’s. Besides showing something like a clock or preprogrammed sequence, it can measure blood pressure, temperature, heartrate, etc. Look at what a fitbit does now. In such a future we may have implanted insulin sensors etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Magnetic etch-a-sketch tattoos! Brilliant stuff, until you become a parent... $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    Jul 27 '16 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Could be worse. The cows were for advertising, but they developed active camoflauge and became invisible. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 27 '16 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ When I saw the title of the question my mind screamed e-ink. Nice answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 27 '16 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Something that is worth considering for controlling the tattoo is flipping displays is the galvanic skin response now known skin conductance or the electrodermal response. Human skin becomes a better conductor of electricity when a person is emotionally aroused. For more info: media.mit.edu/galvactivator/faq.html The galvanactivator is the sort of device you can adapt as a sensor to control tattoos. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jul 29 '16 at 8:23

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