Forget tattoos: Biohackers are putting LED implants under their skin

The doctor will see you now.
The doctor will see you now.
Image: Flickr/Steve Rainwater
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Last weekend (Nov. 6-8) in Düsseldorf, a biohacker successfully implanted an electronic device under his forearm; when it comes into contact with a magnet, its five LED lights switch on, to illuminate his skin.

That may sound like a lot of pain and a high potential for health risk for such a novel reward, but Grindhouse Wetware, the company that developed the implant, believes it is a small step toward living a cyborg life—and one that everyone will soon want to be a part of.

“Today our creations may still seem like niche products, but once we’ve succeeded at developing a cheap heart implant that automatically warns you before a heart attack, everyone will want our gadgets,” Tim Cannon, founder of Grindhouse Wetware and last week’s recipient of the implant, told Vice magazine.

Justin Worst, another member of Grindhouse Wetware, displayed his implant on Twitter:

So-called biohacking communities have been experimenting with digital implants for some time already. Chips as small as a grain of rice can be injected under a person’s skin, or can be implanted via a small incision, as Cannon’s was. And while LED lights are purely aesthetic, other implants serve more practical purposes.

One such purpose could be to ensure that only you can unlock your smartphone, front door, or car. A near-field communication device contained in the “xNTi” implant, developed by a company called Dangerous Things, is a good example of this. Much like pairing a fitness bracelet to a smartphone, the implant can be programmed to pair with any other smart device.

And by inserting magnets under the skin, it is possible to give the user unusual abilities. Picking up small metallic objects, for example, would suddenly become easier. Cannon, who also has a magnet in his finger, told Vice that they can create a sort of sixth sense: “I can sense magnetic fields… Now I know that electricity in Europe feels different than electricity in America.”

Here’s a video of another body modification enthusiast, who has a magnet in his own finger:

The LED device currently in Cannon’s arm is the Northstar Version 1, which he says is still a little on the large side. In the future, such devices could not only become more useful, but smaller too. Version 2, which will feature Bluetooth connectivity and will be implanted in the hand, will record health data and allow the user to program gestures to it.

In this scenario, if you move your hand in a particular way, “the implant recognizes this and sends on the data to your smartphone. You’ve already saved a command on your smartphone for this movement, like opening the car door for example. Then your smartphone communicates with your car and the door opens,” Cannon says.

Image by Steve Rainwater on Flickr, licensed by CC-BY-SA-2.0. The image has been cropped.