I never thought I could turn my body into a loudspeaker.
Here at CNET, I’m the sound guy. After spending over 15 years working in media production I have a passion for not only music, but sound in general. A few years ago, I thought it would be cool to get a sleeve tattoo comprised entirely of waveforms.
I was poking around on Reddit a few months ago and stumbled upon a post about tattoos that can play sound via your phone. This was Skin Motion, the patent-pending augmented reality app developed by Nate Siggard that generates real-time sonic playback from your tattoo, a system it calls Soundwave. Could it have been more ideal for me? Get some ink and then use my phone camera to play my sound back at me as encoded right there on my skin? SIGN ME UP.
Now Playing: Watch this: This AR app turns tattoos into sound
How it works
Now, getting a tattoo is a serious decision for a person to make. And being pretty much a novice in the field of AR, I decided to do my homework. After speaking with colleagues here at CNET and getting some one-on-one time with Siggard himself — you can hear more from him in the video above — it turns out yes, this is a fresh new spin on AR. Essentially, after you upload a recording to Skin Motion’s website, it cranks out a waveform design that is cataloged as a stencil in the Skin Motion database. You take this, as a PDF, to your tattoo artist (more on that below).
The stencil is then synced with a photograph of your finished tattoo and when your app sees that image, it pings the Skin Motion cloud and starts playing back your selected audio. It works kind of like a QR code — but instead of a box code, the wavelength is the code. The app matches the tattoo image to the sound you picked. That means anything can work: voicemails, love notes… anything your heart desires can be uploaded to the Skin Motion cloud.
I went a different direction.
Being CNET’s resident metalhead, and having recently said “farewell” to one of my favorite bands of all time as they played their final show after 20 years, it seemed timely and appropriate to me to get a recording of one of the heaviest, most intense and perspective-changing songs I had ever heard. I decided on “43% Burnt” by The Dillinger Escape Plan. Perhaps not to the taste of many, but this was one of the songs that motivated me to pick up a guitar and start my own band, which in itself led to a bevy of life-affirming adventures.
As I was set to embark on my inking journey, CNET was gracious enough to come along for the ride. We thought it’d be fun, relevant and educational to demonstrate the full process. From signing up to the grand reveal, we went through every step and I found a couple of caveats along the way. For instance, while the account, app and setup is free, you do need to pay an activation fee of $40 to finalize your playback. Then there’s a $10 annual subscription to keep the thing active — essentially a storage fee for your audio.
You also need a pretty decent vantage of the tattoo in order to get a clear picture, plus you need to be online in order to ping the cloud for playback. The