There’s this thing going on that I saw a promo for the other day. A company called Skin Motion is teaming up with tattoo artists to tattoo audio waveforms onto people that, when scanned with the Skin Motion app on a smartphone, will play back the sound for listeners nearby.
Sounds cool so far, no pun intended. Their website claims, “Play a sound encoded in a tattoo…” Neat.
Not so fast. There is no way a tattoo artist is “encoding” any audio on your skin. Sure it’s fun and kinda cool but, semantics aside, the app is not playing the image tattooed. Unfortunately that is the idea being touted. The app is simply playing back an audio file you uploaded to their server. And it’s probably cached on your phone too. Just, keep that in mind if you want to go ahead and get one anyway.
Contrary to a write-up in Dailymail.co.uk this is not a new technology, just a new idea. It is a fun gimmick based on existing technology that makes people happy. Nothing wrong with that I guess.
Consumers: There is no retrievable audio data in the Skin Motion soundwave tattoo. It’s a shape that looks kinda cool. That’s it.
And don’t shoot the messenger, I love tattoos! I just don’t like vague marketing, and that is exactly what is happening here. This is a novelty. The notion gathered by some consumers, and not specifically clarified by the company, is that the tattoo contains some kind of audio information, it does not.
Someone over at Geekologie got in touch with the founder of Skin Motion, Nate Siggard. Here’s what Nate had to say…
A person uploads or records the audio they want into the app or website. We generate the Soundwave from that. The person takes the generated Soundwave to a tattoo artist from our Artist Network. Artists need to be licensed in order to make sure they understand the limitations of the technology and how that applies to tattoo placement, size, and changes to the design of the tattoo from a simple Soundwave to make it more custom or elaborate on it for the person. Once the Artist does the tattoo, a photo of the tattoo is uploaded to our platform. Our platform processes the audio and tattoo and adds it to the app. When the user opens our app and points the camera on their mobile device at the tattoo, it recognizes the shape of the Soundwave and plays back the audio.
Now, read that again only this time, whenever you see the word “Soundwave” add the word “image” after it, because he obviously forgot to. The only part in that quote where he mentions actual audio is when he says, “audio.” Granted he does say, “recognizes the shape of the Soundwave and plays back the audio…” which is a basic simplification of the process but many consumers may still think the tattoo is being “played.”
I was curious how they might describe the process so I found the FAQ on their website. The section labeled How Does a Soundwave Tattoo Work? states “A combination of audio processing, image recognition, computer vision, and cloud computing to create a mixed reality experience.”
I don’t know if you noticed, but that doesn’t tell us how a Soundwave Tattoo works.
Nice use of techy terminology though, kinda of. I get the audio processing part, image recognition makes sense, and “Cloud computing” must refer to the file storage system they use to store all of the uploaded audio files. But I’m still trying to figure out what “computer vision is.”
The Skin Motion FAQ is not sufficient. In no way does it tell us how a Soundwave Tattoo really works. So I’ll give it a go…
You upload your audio file, the Skin Motion system creates a horizontally compressed image based on the audio waveform — that must be the “computer vision” thing — and you have the option of customizing your Soundwave image. Once that is done you take your image to a Skin Motion licensed tattoo artist and get a tattoo of the soundwave image on your body. Take picture of the tattoo with your Skin Motion app and you’re all set.
The image recognition comes into play when you point the app at your tattoo. It matches up the pattern of your tattoo with the image stored on their servers and plays back the sound you uploaded in the first place.
According to their Terms and Conditions of Use, Skin Motion offers “personalized augmented reality tattoo experiences…” and their service consists of a one time fee and subscription service. Yes, there is a service subscription fee to store the audio file and image on their servers so you can point an app at your arm, match up the tattoo image with your file and play it back.
It’s not super expensive mind you. The app is free to download, but when you’re ready to use their service and upload your audio it will cost $39.99 to set it up, which includes the first year. Then $9.99 per year after that. They also reserve the right, at their sole discretion, to cancel your service for any reason. So let’s say they tank and decide to go out of business in a few years. You have a tattoo that the app won’t play. Not that it really played it in the first place. Maybe the app will continue to work with a cached image and audio file, but that’s not indefinite, like your tattoo kinda is.
That last scenario isn’t likely, but it’s food for thought. A tattoo is a big deal. I wouldn’t go ink something on my arm for novelty sake.
Founder of Skin Motion, Nate, had a tattoo made of a waveform recording of his family so he can take it with him wherever he goes. I’ve got some news for you, record your family with your cellphone and you’ll have the audio file with you wherever you go too. For free.