[Editor’s Comment: Among all the latest “mark of the beast” technologies, this must be the most ridiculous one.]
Imagine your parents or boss calling you, and instead of your phone ringing, your elbow, fingernail or torso starts to vibrate.
Finnish smart phone maker Nokia has filed a patent application for a new magnetic tattoo which would vibrate when someone’s calling your phone.
In an application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last September but made public this week, Nokia said it wants to patent “a material attachable to skin, the material capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin.”
The technology could also be used, suggests the application, as a kind of personal password, say for your desktop, activating when you come in range of the computer.
Already the proposed technology has generated heated reaction on Twitter, from disgust and alarm to curiosity, and ribald suggestions for placement, as well as a few volunteers willing to try it out.
Meanwhile, the man behind last year’s foldable “paper phone” says it’s likely a decade before Nokia would ever actually bring its vibrating magnet technology to market.
“This isn’t something Nokia will be bringing out next year. I’d say it’s probably 10 years before it hits the market, between the actual product development, and just getting people ready to accept something like this,” said Roel Vertegaal, an associate professor in human-computer interaction at Queen’s University.
Even Vertegaal himself — who has no connection to the Nokia patent — is a little leery of getting so up close and personal with technology.
“I’d like to think I’d try it, but maybe I’m just a little chicken,” said Vertegaal.
San Francisco-based technology analyst Kevin Dede of Auriga USA said it’s not something he’d volunteer for either, but he can see it appealing to a younger, edgy crowd.
“I live in Haight Ashbury, and there are guys walking around here with so much metal attached to their bodies you wonder how they can actually sleep. Who am I to say that some people wouldn’t want this?” Dede said.
It’s no sure thing that the vibrating tattoos would ever actually get made, says Dede.
“Some of these things don’t ever come to market. Then again, if they’ve got the technology all ready, they could do it very quickly,” Dede said.
The patent plan is a form of “haptic” technology, meaning devices which use your sense of touch. (Remember those arcade games where the handlebars on the motorcycle would rumble as you went over a bump? Those were haptic too).
Ahead of the launch of Apple’s latest iPad tablet, rumours swirled that it would use haptic technology from another Finnish company to turn its touch screen into a “feel screen,” allowing the screen to feel like everything from a piece of silk to a rough rock.
That rumour didn’t pan out, but haptic technology has a bright future, says Vertegaal.
In the case of the vibrating magnetic tattoo from Nokia, Vertegaal sees several potential uses. Among the simplest, assuming it has a long enough range, is hitting the beach.
“You could be swimming in the ocean, get a buzz, and realize you’ve got to get back to check your phone if you were waiting for an important call,” said Vertegaal, who also suggested it could be modified to help alert blind people when they’re approaching objects, or to help surgeons.
For people using electronic medical devices such as pacemakers, Nokia’s application attempts to allay concerns about whether the high-tech tattoo would interfere with their life-saving functions.
“There will be insignificant or no influence on their internal electronic implants,” the patent application said.
Nokia spokeswoman Mona Kokkonen wouldn’t say when the tattoos could actually be hitting the market.
Reaction on social media was less than enthusiastic.
“Makes my skin crawl. Can already imagine a vibrating tattoo with the words ‘Please call your mother…’ ” tweeted Asher Wolf (@Asher_Wolf).
At the other end of the spectrum, however, was a tweeter with the handle @The_Hedgehogs.
“@Nokia, I’d like to volunteer for your vibrating tattoo test studies. ”
In a Toronto Star reader poll, 14 per cent said they’d be ready to sign up for the tattoo, with 48 per cent expressing concern over where the patent may lead. Another 38 per cent just said no, thanks.