The human body has emerged as more than just a canvas for wearable electronic devices. Technological size and cost reductions, along with power and battery improvements, has meant items that were once external have become wearable, and even insertable.
What is an insertable?
We use the term insertables to refer to non-permanent voluntary devices contained within the boundaries of the body — in through or underneath the skin. Insertables are characterized by agency and choice and are therefore used for prodominately non-medical purposes.
Implantable Medical Devices
Implantable medical devices (IMDs), those inserted into the body for restorative purposes, are generally not optional. Many of these devices started as luggables, bought to the patient, becoming wearable with technological advancements and then fully insertable — for example the pacemaker.
We can see this trajectory in many health & well-being devices
Insertable products are already used
This is the part where I make most of the male audience uncomfortable.
We are now seeing insertable forms of non-life threatening health and wellbeing products. For example contraceptives exists as wearable prophylactics or insertable in the form of female condoms, diaphragms, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and sub-dermal contraceptive implants etc.
Menstrual aids too have wearable or insertable forms, with an individual being able to choose whichever they are more comfortable with — wearable pads or insertable tampons or menstrual cups. Even incontinence aids have wearable diapers and a new insertable counterpart for women.
Digital Insertables are already here too
Just as a watch is wearable and a SmartWatch are wearables (Wearable devices), Insertable objects are becoming insertables (Insertable devices).
The MircoCHIPS RFID contraceptive is currently in development with MIT. This devices allow a woman to turn on and off her contraception without requiring removal. This can also be used for other drug delivery systems.
The successfully kickstarted LoonCup, the IoT smart menstrual cup to measure, analyze, and track menstrual cycles.
These are real, available devices that have some consumer market.
It’s not all vagina’s, there’s an IoT smart rectal thermometer (which can also be used under the tongue).
From Science Fiction…
The use of insertables has been seen for decades in pop culture and science fiction from the Cyber Men of Doctor Who, to The Terminator, The Six million Dollar Man (we had the technology) and the Bionic Women.
A pleather of cyberpunk films characterized by near-future, high-tech, often dystopian, realities where humans are rebuilt with bionic implants to restore and extend capabilities into the super human. The microchipping trope has accented science fiction — Neo Jacks in, James Bond’s health is monitored and transmitted via a chip, Quaid is implanted in Total Recall, even the T-Rex in Jurassic World realizes she has a tracking microchip inside her and bites it out.
While microchip tracking is not technically possible, the government is not tracking you with hidden microchips, the concept of insertables is no longer contained just to science fiction.
Academic musings have been around since 1967 with Dr Alan Westin speaking of:
the possibility of ‘permanent implacements’ of ‘tagging devices’ in or on the body
This sentiment has been echoed many times:
It’s not a big jump to say OK you have a wearable, why not embed the device
— McMurchie 1999
X-BT Research Peter Cochrane foretold of a:
A day when chips are not just worn around the neck, but are actually implanted under a humans skin
From a purely “rational” point of view, it would make sense to implant a small chip under the skin, rather than have it on a card that can easily be lost.
— Hiltz et. al 2003
Such discussion is no longer hypothetical
To give you a flying (abridged) history...
We start with Professor Kevin Warwick’s Cyborg 1.0 experiment in 1998, using an inserted RFID to open doors and active office lights.
In 2001 Dr Richard Seelig self-inserted identification chips after seeing first responders to the twin towers writing their badge numbers on themselves for identification.
In 2004 Seelig received FDA approval for human insertion of RFID chips brand named VeriChip (now defunct). These were used to store medical and health records for emergency situations — come in unconscious to the hospital and be scanned to find out your medical history and allergies. Approximately 2000 VeriChips were inserted in people and 900 hospitals equip to read them during its tenure.
VeriChips’ were re-appropriated for some notable purposes including:
- Employees of the Mexico Attorney General’s offices for access to secure areas;
- CityWatcher employee access to their Cincinnati offices;
- 100 staff and patrons of the now-defunct Barcelona Baja Beach Club VIP program for access and point of sale payments.
The VeriChips, like microchips used in pets, have a porous bio-bond coating to prevent migration by bonding to tissue. These chips make removal very invasive and difficult, if not impossible.
The first hobbyist to insert an RFID chip, Amal Graafstra in 2005, sourced non-permanent chips without this coating. Graafstra now sells these insertable chips online and has sold thousands of units thus far and engendered the hobbyist wave of insertable use.
So we know people are inserting devices into their bodies, but what and why was not known on scale.