Forget Wearables: Embedded Technology Gets Under Our Skin

Wearable technology is clunky and awkward. George Tucker examines what’s next on the horizon, devices made to be a part of the human body.

George Tucker

At a recent Commercial Integrator event, CI Summit 2015, a panel discussion focused on wearables. The interface will progress from touch to merely waving an object attached to a person.

From access control to personal metrics and direct advertising, these devices have the potential to change everything, or so the panelists said.

WearNot

The panel conversation was intriguing and thought-provoking. It was also wrong.

Wearables, in their current state, are clunky and awkward with form overwhelming function. The devices can be made into a jewelry-like form, such as bracelets or necklaces. Unfortunately wearables can also be forgotten, lost, or even stolen. This is not the optimum situation when being used for home locks, or secure location control.

I, The Machine

What will the next generation interface look like? To find out just look in the mirror. You, or more specifically your body, will be the next step in control. The human body will interact not with wearables but embeddables — devices made to be part of your body.

Science fiction has long toyed with the idea of technology which, once embedded into the flesh, provides extra sensory feedback. The future is now, as the saying goes, and the children of William Gibson have begun to bear fruit. Welcome to your next leap forward, the world of Biohacking.

This is Now

As far back as 2004, shops like Grindhouse Wetware were implanting neodymium magnets in fingertips. Body Modification shops moved from the purely aesthetic surgical addition of bumps, horns and other inserts to functional.

Users found a new way of interacting not just with magnetic materials but also in sensing the electrical world around them, like a spidey sense for every day. Being makers and programmers in addition to body modification, these folks naturally made devices to control with the magnets.

Related: Does Wearable Technology Fit with Integration?

Nanotechnology now provides the means to pack more impact with each implant. Take the case of Epicenter, a block of high-tech firms in a Swedish building. The employees of companies occupying the space have the option of getting a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip embedded in their hand. 

Placed just between the thumb and index finger, the Perlicue, the chip allows the body to unlock doors, purchase food at the cafeteria, operate the photocopier, and interact with the media devices throughout the building. It is possible that the GPS feature can also tell you where the car is parked.

Tattoo You

What if you are just a visitor or occasional contractor at such a building? Undergoing a (albeit five-minute-long) surgical procedure may be just a bit off putting, not to mention costly.

The company Chaotic Moon has a semi-permanent tattoo which contains a circuit which bonds to the skin. Akin to the devices made for diabetics or even smoking cessation patches, the tattoos allow for temporary interaction with the secret world. 

The temporary implants can come in a variety of options from straight wash-and-wear to those that attach with leads that pierce the skin. Both can provide simple access or connection to more complex devices already implanted in the user.

Maker to Mainstream

Currently these experiments are being conducted by Maker Movement aligned folks, some with medical supervision. In fact, Maker Magazine and the Adafruit have special groups that cover these new cyber folks.

The tests can be exciting, exotic and sometimes very dangerous. Regardless, the progress is advancing out from the tattoo and body mod shops and into mainstream. 

Related: What New Technologies You Should Be Using, According to Forbes

Still a bit doubtful that the mass market will accept such a radical idea? We already accept forms of birth control (for both men and women) that are implanted. There is also an ever-growing market of medical microprocessor devices to control the heart, sugar levels, digestive and more. The units not only control certain functions but update a database with readings and metrics.

The ever growing Internet of Things (IoT) sector of the industry will on promote and amplify the use and, indeed, need for embeddables. In a world where everything will interact, having a collection of wearables to access each is untenable. Only implanted systems will accommodate the demand for more access, quicker and easier.

How soon will it be until a surgical specialist is a must-have addition to your shop?