Implantable wearables or wearable tech? Many experts see wearable technology as a fast-growing landscape, soon to have its ‘breakthrough moment’ in the sun. And yet, I am a firm believer that wearable technology is only a transitional form of tech. From a marketing perspective, wearables posses strong functional and weak emotional values. Therefore once embedded into luxury garments and fashion apparel the resulting products would appeal to a small segment of early adopters and tech-native consumers.
Embedding smart sensors into luxury garments and accessories would inevitably lead to obsolescence, taking away the timelessness aura that so much defines the concept of luxury. However, wearables will have a bright future with a second generation that evolves from existing outside our bodies to residing inside us. This is, the future of wearable technology lies in implantable wearables.
Here is my top 10 implantable wearables, based on the latest technological developments that I am aware of. Soon, these implantable wearables will become a normal part of your life (and your body).
1. Implantable Wearables – Implantable Smartphone
We are connected to our smartphones 24/7 nowadays. But, what if we were connected to our smartphones at a physical level? Well, it is happening. Last year, artist Anthony Antonellis had an RFID chip embedded in his arm. The chipset is able to store and transfer the art he creates to his smartphone by using only thoughts. A similar project, led by Dr Tobias Reichenbach at the Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London in collaboration with a team of experts from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Germany sees advanced experiments with embedded sensors, aiming to turn human bones into functional speakers.
Or, eye implants that capture images with a blink of an eye, as seen in the Argus 2 project, as developed by a team of scientists from Australia. Once captured, the images are transmitted to a local storage, such as that arm-borne RFID chip mentioned above, if you like. The question is, what takes the place of the screen if the smartphone is inside your body? Well, the idea is to make the images appear in your eye implants. If that is too intrusive – for the time being – have a look at the pic above remaking the efforts of a team of specialists at Autodesk working on a system that might let wearers display digital images through their skin.
2. Implantable Wearables – Healing Chipsets
There are many patients using cyber-implants connected to smartphones and special apps. It allows them to monitor and act towards their diseases in real time. A more advanced implant is the bionic pancreas created at America’s Boston University. The ‘organ’ has a microscopic sensor on an implantable needle and can talk to a smartphone app that monitors blood-sugar levels for diabetics.
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A similar project is run by a team of scientists in London working on a swallowable capsule packed with smart circuits that monitor fat levels in obese patients. Moreover, it the capsules can ‘generate’ genetic material that makes them feel satiated and thus reduces the need for extra caloric intake. It has a great potential to become an alternative solution to the current surgical procedures or any other invasive ways to handle obesity and any associated medical conditions.
3. Implantable Wearables – Cyber Pills Connected To Your Doctor
Implantables won’t just communicate with your smartphone but “chat up” with your doctor as well. In a project named Proteus, after the microscopic body-navigating vessel in the film Fantastic Voyage, a team of British researchers is developing a cyber-pill with a microprocessor inside that can text the doctors right from inside your body.
The pills can share (literally) inside info to help doctors know if you are taking your medication properly and if it is having the desired effect.
4. Implantable Wearables – Implantable Birth Control ‘Pill’
The Gates Foundation is behind an MIT project that seeks to create an implantable female contraceptive chip. The chip can be controlled by an external remote control and works by generating small amounts of contraceptive hormones from within the woman’s body, for up to 16 years.
Implanting the chip is no more invasive than a tattoo. Moreover, the chip has the ability to turn itself on or off, depending on the external factors, as such “providing a great convenience factor for those who are planning their family” said Dr Robert Farra of MIT. I think that ‘losing the remote’ has just gained a whole new meaning.
5. Implantable Wearables – Smart Tattoos
Tattoos are hip and seemingly ubiquitous, so why not having a smart digital tattoo that looks cool and performs useful tasks? Feel like unlocking your car or entering smartphone password with a finger-point? Now you can. Researchers at the University of Illinois have crafted an implantable skin mesh of computer fibres thinner than a human hair that can monitor your body’s inner workings from the surface.
A company called Dangerous Things has an NFC chip that can be embedded in a finger through a tattoo-like process, letting you unlock things or enter passwords simply by pointing at the screen. To add to that, another Texas-based research team has developed micro-particles that can be injected just under the skin, like tattoo ink, aimed at tracking certain body processes.
6. Implantable Wearables – ‘Brain-Computer’ Interfaces
Having the human brain linked directly to computers is the dream (or nightmare) of any sci-fi fan. A team from Brown University, called ‘The BrainGate’ is at the forefront of the real-world ‘brain – machine connection. The BrainGate website boasts: “by using a baby aspirin-sized array of electrodes implanted into the brain, the early results from the BrainGate team show that the neural signals can be ‘decoded’ by a computer, in real-time, and used to operate external devices.” Telekinesis, here we come.
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The renown chipset manufacturer Intel predicts that practical computer-brain interfaces will become mainstream by 2020. Dean Pomerleau, an Intel scientist, said in a recent article: “Soon, people will be willing to brain implants.” I hate needles but would love being able to surf the Web with the power of my thoughts.
7. Implantable Wearables – Meltable Bio-batteries
One of the main challenges faced by implantable tech has been, so far, powering up the devices tethered inside or floating around in the human body. You can’t just plug them in. You can’t take them out to replace a battery. Not with ease, at least. That is why, a team of experts from Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is developing biodegradable swallowable batteries.
These batteries can generate power inside the body, transfer it via WIFI waves where needed, and then, once there is no more power left just melt away. Another project is looking at how to use the body’s self-creation of glucose to generate electricity for implantables. Think the potato battery of grammar school science, but smaller and much more advanced.
8. Implantable Wearables – Smart Dust
Perhaps the most startling of current implantable innovations is the ‘Smart Dust’. It is an array of full computers with antennas, each much smaller than a grain of sand. The ‘grains’ can organise themselves inside the body into smart networks and power a whole range of complex internal processes.
Imagine swarms of these nano-devices, called motes, attacking early cancer cells. Or, closing and bringing pain relief to a deep wound. Or, storing critical personal information in a manner that is encrypted and hard to hack. With smart dust, doctors will be able to act inside your body without opening you up. Moreover, personal information could be stored inside your body, encrypted until you unlocked it from your personal nano-network.
9. Implantable Wearables – The Verified Self
This technology could be used to ID every single human being. For example, the US military has a program afoot to equip soldiers with implanted RFID chips. Their goal is to keep track of the troops in a simple yet automatic process that works worldwide.
Many social critics argue that the expansion of this new type of implantable ID is inevitable. Some, see the positives in it: improved crime fighting, universal secure elections, positive uses in medical information and fast response, and most important, the end of child trafficking.
Others see the perfect Orwellian society. A new form of Big Brother. Knowing all, seeing all, control all, the day when artificial intelligence becomes reality. The first step toward Singularity, that moment when humanity (read matter) becomes information.
10. Implantable Wearables – 3D Printed Smart Organs
The idea behind tissue engineering is that you take a piece of plastic 3d printed to the desired form. Add human cells to it, put some special media into the mix and voila! You have just become a god. You now have the ability to make skin, bones, tissues or any organ in the human body.
“There’s been significant progress in this field”, says Robert Langer, professor in biomedical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We can already make the skin for patients with burns and skin ulcers and others like corneas and liver are in trials. Sooner than expected we will be able to do this for all tissues.” Do you think wearable tech has a better future in fashion industry than it has in medicine as implantables? Would love to ‘hear’ your comments below.