Top 15 Implantable Wearables That Will Change Our Lives
Several decades ago, someone predicted that man might never get around to fabricating living, breathing and functional robots – as much as the idea looks enticing. Instead, he will do the vice-versa – bring the tech into himself, for himself, by himself. And if the recent trend of wearables is anything to go by, then I guess there’s an ounce of truth in this.
Just look around. The current collection of wearable products has brought about a widescale technological revolution with many players offering some innovative, lifestyle-disruptive and next-generation features. From super smart watches to fitness trackers, not to mention heart-rate monitors and electronic pills, wearable technology has proven to be quite versatile.
But this is only the beginning.
The latest developments in this field have heralded the creation of a new wearable technology that moves the whole computational interface inside our bodies. Hail thee, the all new Implantables!
1. Implantable healing chips
We can foresee a near future of where people will be using implantable devices that are connected to their smartphone for both monitoring and treating diseases. For instance, there is an innovative bionic pancreas that is currently getting experimented on at Boston University in America. This pancreas has an inbuilt sensor that communicates directly to the users’ smartphone application and helps diabetic individuals monitor their levels of blood sugar.
Researchers in London have been developing implantable capsule size circuits to monitor the fat levels in the body and help deal with the obesity menace. The implantable capsules, in this case, help fight obesity through generating some genetic material designed to make users feel full. This particular technology has a great potential to offer a more convenient alternative to other invasive methods like surgery to deal with obesity. Several other medical problems from anxiety to heart complications have implantable initiatives being developed by scientists.
2. Pain-Alleviating Stretchy Implants
Experts are testing stretchy wireless implants that will be used to treat pain that doesn’t respond to other forms of therapy.
According to Robert W. Gereau, an anaesthesiology professor at Washington University School of Medicine and lead researcher of the project, these implants are soft and flexible, which unlike devices, do not need to be anchored to bone to stay put. This means that the project is specifically aimed at muscle and soft tissue pain alleviation via a technique that has not been tried before.
The implants feature micro-LED lights that will be used to activate nerve cells around the paining tissue, while sutures will be used in holding the units in place.
3. Neural Implantables in US Military
The brain is one of the last places we would expect to find wearable tech in, but apparently that’s where the US military is headed.
DARPA, the research arm of the US Defence Department is working on an almost-complete project that will see soldiers implanted with microchips in their brains to enhance battle-readiness, boost performance on the battlefield and heal trauma.
The technology has been tried on a few volunteers already (mainly people undergoing neurosurgery for other reasons), and if everything turns out successful, we may soon see real cyborgs in military men.
4. Implantable pills that can communicate with your doctor
If you thought that ingestible smart pills that communicated with your smartphone were cool, wait till you see this one. Apparently, British researchers are not satisfied with the simple interaction between the smart pill and your phone and they are instead creating another version that will easily chat with your doctor and even despense drugs into your body over the course of a lifetime. The pills have an embedded microprocessor that will text your doctor from within your body.
By communicating directly with your doctors, the pills will help your physician know whether you are sticking to medication and also if the prescribed medicine is having a desirable effect.
5. Implantable Heart Rate Controlling Defibrillators
When heart rate takes an unusually irregular pace, a condition suffered by millions of individuals each year, implantable devices known as defibrillators can be used to reset the rhythm to normal.
The technology has been used for more than five years now and users have come out in internet forums and social media sites in support of the device.
A number of reports have however come out to highlight the downside of this life-saving technology, and deteriorated sex health has been shown to be among the most shared issues among respondents.
6. Next-gen Implantable Smartphones
We are already connected virtually to our phones today, but Autodesk is experimenting with an innovative system that could help us get a physical connection with our most important devices, the smartphone. This system would be able to display an accurate display of your phone on your hand using an artificial skin. That technology is already starting to be used in other applications. For example, Anthony Antonellis, an artist, implanted an RFID chip in his hand that could not only store, but also transfer his artworks to his smartphone. Also, researchers are currently experimenting with implantable sensors that convert human bones into live speakers.
Other researchers are developing eye implants that will allow images to be captured instantly by blinking and then transmitted to a local storage point (like the previously mentioned hand RFID chip. So if your phone is now inside you, what will you use as the screen? Well, Autodesk is working on an advanced system that will display your phone using an artificial skin. The other possible alternative is that your phone’s display may as well appear directly in your eyes, through the eye implants.
7. Smart Tattoos
Till now, tattoos have been used as a form of art, and also a way for people to express their thoughts and feelings. However, the next generation tattoos will not only be amazing visually but will also have the extra features of performing helpful tasks like entering smartphone codes or even unlocking your vehicle with a simple swipe. Researchers at Illinois University have designed a clever implantable skin mesh made with computer fibres that is much thinner than regular human hair, which is used to monitor the inner workings of your body from the surface. Besides that, researchers in Texas have created microscopic particles that are implanted just under the skin, similar to tattoo ink, which can track major body processes.
The options mentioned above are much wiser to consider getting than simply tattooing a random name or image on your body.
8. The xNT Implantable NFC by Dangerous Things
There is also a company known as Dangerous Things that has an embeddable NFC chip that is inserted into your finger using the same process as getting a tattoo. The xNT works much like the ingestible password pill, but is slightly different for being the first commercial implant of this type to use near-field communication.
The device is implanted under the skin just like the Southpaw internal compass, and is used to link the user to their smartphone. Using it, you can open smartlocks, start your car or motorcycle, pay for goods at the store and even unlock smartphone and computer passwords with a simple wave of the hand.
The device has already been released, and Dangerous Things, the company behind it, is in continuous search of new software, devices and services that the xNT can work with.
9. Sponge-like Implant for Cancer Cell Detection
Researchers at the University of Michigan have come up with a device – simply described as a small, sponge like implant – that can capture metastatic cancer cells, helping detect the deadly disease in healthy persons and bar relapse in survivors.
The device generally attracts all body cells but has been designed in such a way that it chooses cancer cells over any other cell in the tissues. In a test, mice with breast cancer were implanted with the device and immune cells attacked the device. The cancer cells then followed the immune cells to the device just as they were programmed to do.
10. Computer-Brain Interface
Linking the human brain directly to a computer has been the main theme behind many sci-fi movies. Well, now it could become a reality thanks to a team of researchers called BrainGate working out of Brown University. This team is at the helm of real-world plans to join the human brain directly to computers so as to achieve a wide range of applications. According to the BrainGate team, using a baby aspirin-size range of electrodes that are directly implanted in the brain, early research shows neural signals are decodable by computers and can be used to run external devices.
Even Intel, the world’s leading chip maker, has predicted that by 2020, we are going to see some practical brain-computer interfaces entering the market. Ultimately, people will even consider getting brain implants as a way of accessing new implantable technologies. Imagine having the ability to browse the internet through your thoughts. There is also new hope for paralysed patients to be able to interact with their surroundings again.
11. Implantable Biodegradable Batteries
Among the major challenges for implanted devices is the ability to get sufficient power to the devices once they are inside the body. You cannot plug them into a socket, and neither can you take them out easily so as to swap a new battery. A team in Cambridge, Massachusetts has already started creating biodegradable batteries.
These next-generation and highly advanced batteries generate power from within the body and then wirelessly transfer them where needed. The most interesting thing about these batteries is that once they have accomplished their task of recharging implantable devices, they just melt away.
Besides that, there is another project underway that is researching into how to utilise glucose inside the body as a power source for implantable devices. Think the simple potato battery, only more advanced and much smaller.
12. Implantable Smart Birth-Control Chip
There is no denying that birth control is an important area of concern, and thus there are significant developments to be expected in this sector with regards to implantables. Bill Gates, through the Gates Foundation, is one of the main players who has stepped up support for more effective birth control solutions. His foundation is currently backing an innovative MIT project that is developing an implantable smart contraceptive pill that can be controlled externally using a remote control. The tiny smart chip is designed to produce small quantities of levonorgestrel from inside a female’s body for nearly 16 years.
Regarding birth control, implantation has long been used as a preferred method. Hence, it is not something new. What is new in this case is the capability of turning your birth control on or off using the remote. That will offer great convenience for people who are intent on planning the exact time for when to have kids.
13. Smart Dust
Maybe the most amazing of projected implantable devices coming soon is the smart dust or motes. This is essentially a wide range of tiny, fully functional computers fitted with antennas. The tiny computers can organise themselves within the body as required so as to achieve a broad range of intricate internal processes.
Just imagine having these microscopic devices attacking early signs of cancer or providing much-needed pain relief when you get wounded. They could also have the capability of storing important personal information within the body in a deeply encrypted manner to safeguard crucial data. Using this Smart Dust, it will no long be necessary for doctors to open you up for surgery. They will just need to implant the smart dust into your body and then work out a solution to your problem on a screen.
14. Implantable Smart Organs
Tissue engineering is an exciting field, and there have already been major developments on this matter. To engineer new tissues, you just take a certain kind of plastic, add live human cells in the right structure and medium to make new bone, tissue or skin. Currently, it is possible to make a new skin for patients suffering from skin ulcers or burns.
Future applications of implantable smart organs will see other organs like the liver or cornea being implanted into the body. Sooner rather than later scientists will have the ability to create new tissues for every part of the body.
15. Implantable ID?
Implantable technology could prove useful for verifying the identity of every person on earth. For example, the US military already has dedicated programs under development aimed at equipping soldiers with smart RFID chips to enable tracking of troops regardless of their deployment throughout the world.
Most social critics say that the development of an implantable ID is going to be inevitable, in fact there are already some cases of it happening. There are many positive benefits that can be realised from such an ID. For instance, it could mean better crime fighting, globally secure elections, better transmission of medical data and quicker response rates, as well as never losing a child again.
However, for other people an implantable ID could mean having an Orwellian society where the government by knowing and seeing everything, controls everything. The other concern is that humanity could soon turn over its future to software manipulation and become a slave of the same technology that it created. Just as predicted by the book of Revelations in the Holy Book. Whether that happens or not, only time can tell.
Another product of Biohacks, Circadia, is a smartphone-size computer designed to record biometric data from within the body and have it displayed on a smartphone. The current version of the microcomputer is Circadia 1.0 and is a complete project already, with self-professed biohacker Tim Cannon, who is also the gizmo’s innovator, being the first man to take the implant.
For something that’s going to be implanted under the skin, the Circadia is awfully large, but still way small compared to other computing devices.
There is currently not much that the Circadia 1.0 can do but a future version of it, which is on its way coming, is expected to have a built in sensor and a few more additional features. The actual Circadia device is better understood as a work of art and a demonstration of what is feasible in the future and not necessarily a truly viable health monitoring system. As “simple” fitness tracker can do the same without the need of mutilating one’s self.
The ‘internal earphones’, as he calls them, are minuscule chips implanted in both ears, and magnetically connected to a wire coil worn around the neck to produce music. Surprisingly, as small as they are, the earphones have other functions apart from sound transmission. They can detect Wi-Fi signals, magnetic fields and even heat from a distance. Lee calls them a sixth sense, and from this perspective you would concur.
Ingestible Password Pill
In what seems like the strangest idea we’ve heard in months, Paypal was said to be developing an ingestible pill which will memorise passwords for you.
The world-famous company’s top developer Jonathan Leblanc is the man behind the invention, and has already made his plans known to the world through a presentation called “Kill All Passwords”.
Jonathan argues that besides saving you the hassle of having to cram tens of number and letter patterns, these chips will address the vulnerability issue presented by open typing of passwords.
Note: PayPal has since stated that the company has no plans to create ingestible verification systems.
Southpaw Implantable Compass
Let’s admit it, we never saw this one coming. The Southpaw Project is the first internal guiding system, a compass under the skin, and the brain behind it: Brian McEvoy, an electronic engineer and biohacker.
The device is basically a tiny version of the conventional compass, but with silicon wrapped entirely around it, and to be implanted inside the body.
It works by causing a slight shake under the skin every time the wearer faces north, thanks to a protrusive hair-thick fibre that does the sensing.
Pressing concerns revolving around implantable devices
Despite all the benefits and possibilities of using implantable wearables mentioned above, we can’t turn a blind eye that there are some major concerns surrounding this technology. Here are some of them.
Too much independence
If you consider the implications of having implantables in the medical field, you can easily see that patients will stand a better chance at accruing more information from their implantables and, in turn, they will be in a position to make better decisions as far as staying health goes. In this regard, the patient gets actively involved in their healthcare, and this ultimately reduces the paternalistic trends linked to medicine. Also, from the doctor’s viewpoint, it can be said that the doctor can see how patients deal with their conditions outside the hospital, as with TB and Parkinson’s devices.
Nevertheless, the same implantable technology could lead to the creation of a big gap between the doctor and the patient. Part of medicine lies in the regular physical interaction and communication between the physician and the patient. That is where an effective bond of trust is established. Through minimising or taking away this important aspect, there is also a high risk of creating a DIY style of medicine. Thus, while hospital stays and physical office visits are reduced, so is the overall confidence in doctors and also a de-personalisation of the patients to doctors.
The other crucial challenge facing implantable wearables is confidentiality. Currently, hacking is a major threat to personal data, which is then used for either identity theft or data corruption. Implantables are essentially designed to transmit data to other devices for further interpretation and action. Hence, in this regard, there is a risk of such data being intercepted or even modified, thus sending the wrong notification or delivering medication that shouldn’t have been taken by that person.
Getting consent will, therefore, be important for using and also sharing information gotten from implantable devices. A unique and verifiable identifier must be used to improve the effectiveness of the implantable and also ensure privacy. New laws must be created to deal specifically with the issue of privacy with implantable devices to stay on par with the imminent technological revolution.
The bottom line
The cultural and technological implications of using implantable wearables are not completely clear yet, even though a few of the risks can be summarised easily. Today’s security limitations, including data exploits, privacy concerns, and malicious hacks, cast a shadow over the advanced technology of the future. If your credit card gets hacked, there are some institutional barriers that offer recourse and protection. However, when your only barrier is your skin, then it is a completely different scenario. Again , only time can tell.
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