Wearable technology features gadgets people wear on their bodies and clothes, but implantable technology makes gadgetry more personal and intimate by leaps and bounds. The convenience and usefulness of a stylish smartwatch is one thing, but the transformative power of the bionic eye that grants sight to the blind is something completely different.
Implantable tech encompasses a growing array of mechanical objects affixed directly to, or inserted inside the body. It’s nothing new — just ask anyone with a pacemaker — but multiple companies and manufacturers are developing next generation implantable products that have the potential to be just as life-altering as mobile and wearable technology, if not more so.
These three projects highlight the possibilities that implantable technology bring:
1. Scientists at wearable tech company MC10 are creating flexible circuits that can be as thin as a thousandth of the width of a human hair, printed on silicon, and transferred onto the skin. These electronic stamps collect data on a person’s temperature, heart rate, UV exposure and brain signals that can be monitored at home or sent to the doctor. These circuits can be designed to last minutes or months before they dissolve. These electronic tattoos and biostamps aren’t implanted inside the body, but they are embedded onto it, which makes them more permanent and intimate than the current generation of wearables.
2. Motorola has partnered with MC10 to adapt the technology for password authentication purposes. Motorola is also working with Proteus Digital Health to develop pills with switches inside for the same purpose. Stomach acids serve as electrolytes to power a battery and switch inside the pill. They activate a signal in the body that tells outside devices and security systems that the person who ingested the pill is the real deal. It’s been FDA-approved but isn’t yet available to the public.
3. By June 1, only five Americans will have undergone a new surgical procedure that implants sensors on the human retina. In Second Sight’s Argus system, patients wear glasses containing a camera that transmits images to retinal sensors through electrical pulses. Doctors at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center have performed the surgeries on people with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes progressive vision loss. The procedure doesn’t restore full sight, but patients can see black-and-white shapes and outlines.