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Biohacking Implants: Technology beyond Wearables

Submitted By: 

Neha Rastogi
Biohacking, as the term itself indicates, reflects a combination of biology and hacking. In this technology, the individuals can hack their bodies to achieve certain goals which may include improving the physical strength or boosting the brain memory. With the advancement in technology, Biohacking is getting popular each day. It administers the use of various methods like medical, nutritional, or even electronic techniques.
 

Biohacking Implants

Figure1: Biohacking Implants

Intake of supplements, gene sequencing research in laboratories, wearable gadgets and body implants are all included in Biohacking. Although you all may know a lot about wearables as it has become too common, the body implants is still not known to the masses. So, let’s get an insight about the Biohacking implants and what difference will it make in the coming years.

Body Implants

There are various ways of modifying a human body, whereby most of these are performed for fun which may include getting inked or body piercing. However, there are some more techniques that are practiced for the purpose of sharing information or enabling the body to enhance its abilities.

Usually, we come across the following kinds of implants, namely- :

• Magnetic

Small magnetic chips can be inserted into ones' hands or fingers to detect the location of a nearby object or to pick up small objects. Biohacker Rich Lee implanted magnets in his ears that work as hidden ear buds. Linking it to earphone enable him to use it as a hearing device while connecting it to GPS allow him to get the directions transmitted directly to his head.

Small magnetic chips

Figure2: Magnetic Chip inserted inside the finger

• RFID

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. These chips can be implanted inside humans to let them interact with the electronic devices. You can unlock doors, computers and a lot of other gadgets. It can also connect to your payment and security systems. Kevin Warwick, UK-based cybernetics professor, was the first person to get an RFID chip implanted in his hand. He connected it to the systems at University to operate lights and doors.

• Cochlear

It’s more of a medical procedure where a chip is implanted inside the ear nerves of deaf people. This chip uses several electrodes to translate sounds (received from a microphone) into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. The audio quality is not as good as we hear with a normal ear but the person can clearly hear it without lip reading.

• Electronic Tattoos

Although these are not actually implants but still bring integration between the human body and technology. These kinds of tattoos can gather the biometric data of the body through sweat and monitor heart rate which is then sent to the desired device.

Electronic Tatoos

Figure3: Wrist showing an Electronic Tattoo

Important Related Terms

• Human Augmentation

The field of human augmentation relates to focusing on the creation of cognitive and physical enhancements as an integral part of the human body. For example, limb prosthetics can be implanted on a human that acts as an artificial limb but can work with as much perfection as a natural one.

• Transhumanism

It’s a theory or belief that Science & Technology can be further worked upon to evolve the human race beyond its current physical and mental capabilities. It aims to develop sophisticated technology for the masses so as to transform the human’s intellectual, physical and psychological abilities.

• Grinders

Grinders are people who hack their own bodies with do-it-yourself cybernetic devices. They constantly try to push the boundaries to pursue body hacking to get access to something which is not available in the consumer market. In the last decade, the grinder community has gained traction among hobbyists and enthusiasts who wish to share techniques and augmentation designs.

• Cyborg

Cyborg, also known as bionic human, is a person with a body containing mechanical or electrical devices that lend him the abilities which are beyond those of normal human beings. Neil Harbisson is the world’s first cyborg activist who was born with the color blindness defect. However, now he has an antenna mounted on the top of his head that views more than 360 colors visible to a normal human eye (including ultraviolet and infrared spectrum).

Noteworthy Biohacking Projects

1. The Year 2005 marked the start of the augmentation journey of one of the pioneers of biohacking named Amal Graafstra who initially just intended to unlock the doors without any keys. He tried to replicate the RFID pet ID tags but found out that those were not programmable. Later, he succeeded to find an industrial glass-encased RFID tag with similar dimensions. Thus he got the industrial RFID tag implanted on his hand with the help of the same device which was used for pet IDs.

2. Discussing the story of Neil Harbisson, the world’s first cyborg activist, an antenna known as eyeborg has been attached to his head since 2004. This eyeborg includes 4 implants: two for antenna, one for vibration, and one for Bluetooth that connects to the internet. With the help of this device, he can hear the light frequencies of the spectrum along with the infrared and ultraviolet. He can receive colors from satellites and phone’s cameras and even receive phone calls directly into his head.

World's first cyborg activist

Figure4: Neil Harbisson Showing off the antenna implanted in his skull

3. Rich Lee, a famous biohacker has implanted a pair of tiny magnet in his earlobes which he uses to listen to music without needing any earbuds and even senses objects in his vicinity. He was able to achieve echolocation by converting data from an ultrasonic range finder into audio and then it’s sent to the headphone implants wirelessly. He can also get directions in his mind by connecting the device with his phone’s GPS.

Famous biohacker

Figure5: Rich Lee Showing his magnet in the earlobe

4. Kevin Warwick, professor at cybernetics at Conventry University, launched and directed “Project Cyborg”. He has undergone various surgical procedures to implant electronic devices into his body. One of them includes a 100-electrode sensor grid into the nerves in his elbow. It captures signals flowing down his arm in order to control a robotic wheelchair or to operate a remote-controlled robotic hand over internet. Later, his wife got a similar electrode implanted on his hand that allowed them to communicate with the help of impulses over internet.

5. Steve Mann regarded as the father of wearable computing, has worked on various augmented reality projects. One of his devices looks like a Google Glass but is actually attached permanently to his skull with the help of various screws. It captures the visual input received by his eyes and then it’s run through a computer where additional information is attached to it. The final output is then displayed on his small near-eye screen.

Father of wearable computing

Figure7: Steve Mann with the Device Screwed on his Head

6. A company named Grindhouse Wetware introduced its product named Northstar which is a subdermal LED sensor. It lights up whenever the wearer gets close to a magnet and hence detects the magnetic north. In other words, it acts as a compass and not just an LED tattoo. Its second iteration reportedly allows users to control the devices through hand gestures.

Grindhouse Wetware

Figure8: Circadia- an implanted device devleoped by Grindhouse Wetware

Other projects by the company include Circadia and Bottlenose. The former is an implantable device that sends the biometric data of the body to phone or tablet via Bluetooth and is powered by inductive charging. Moving on, Bottlenose is a wearable technology device that makes use of haptic magnets as data inputs in order to transmit information to the users through nerves.

Future of Biohacking

Human body is undoubtedly a highly complex system which has some wonderful capabilities. However, there are still a lot of limitations beyond which our body cannot perform. For example, an average human ear can only hear sounds with frequency range of 20-20,000 hertz. Besides, our eyes can perceive only ten-trillionth of all light waves. We cannot see infrared rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet light and much more.

But as Science believes in exploring and experimenting, human is always adamant to push the limits so as to go beyond what seems to be next to impossible. We have already come a far way owing to the innovations and discoveries that have taken place in the past few decades. Machines have become an important part of our lives and now are gradually becoming an integral part of our bodies, literally.

Prosthetic Surgeries, electronic tattoos, and magnetic as well as RFID implants are all forms of Biohacking which are not only enhancing the existing capabilities but also offer to have something which we could have never availed otherwise. However, there are still a lot of limitations regarding the extent to which humans can carry out such experiments because of the safety concerns which is quite obvious.

In spite of all this, the pace at which we are progressing is very well indicating that soon having extra bunch of capabilities and senses would be common. By next 2 decades, humans would not only carrying artificial parts and organs but might also be carrying nanobots flowing through the bloodstreams and killing all the infectious viruses. Also, it would be common to have superhuman capabilities as we already have so many cyborgs living around us.

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