We are living in the 21st century surrounded by technology and every year we are seeing new discoveries that are changing human life in every aspect. The first every electronics device invented was a relay, a remote switch which was controlled by electricity and magnetism in the year 1837 by English scientist Edward Davy, thus it became the first electronics device though, not anything involving crystals, diodes, vacuum tubes, etc. Then many discoveries came like a light bulb, telephone, radio, projector, cellphones, electric cars, and many more. Vacuum tubes that are the size of television are now replaced by devices of a few micrometers. The components made from silicon are now used in every electronics device. Every discovery is influencing humans, 20 years ago no one has wondered that one day we could wear a cellphone device in our hands. But now we could see smartwatches and fitness bands that could keep track of our activities just by accompanying some sensors. And now in the new era microchips implanted in the human body are replacing wearable electronics. It has been predicted that we will witness the beginning of human microchipping.
Let us first see what is a Microchip implant — A human microchip implant is typically an identifying integrated circuit device or RFID transponder encased in silicate glass and implanted in the body of a human being. This type of subdermal implant usually contains a unique ID number that can be linked to information contained in an external database, such as personal identification, law enforcement, medical history, medications, allergies, and contact information. This is the classical definition and explains much about what a microchip would consist of.
The first experiments with radio-frequency identification (RFID) implant were carried out in 1998 by the British scientist Kevin Warwick. He used this implant to open doors, switch on lights, and cause verbal output within a building. After about nine days the implant was removed and has since been held in the Science Museum in London, this started a new topic for researchers. In early March 2005 hobbyist, Amal Graafstra implanted a 125khz EM4102 bioglass-encased RFID transponder into his left hand. It was used with an access control system to gain entry to his office. Soon after in June 2005 he implanted a more advanced HITAG S 2048 low frequency transponder. Since then several hobbyists have placed RFID microchip implants into their hands or had them inserted by others. While the majority of these innovations rely on the RFID technology these have existed for decades, let us first understand how this works.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) -
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) refers to a wireless system consists of a tiny radio transponder; a radio receiver and a transmitter. When triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a nearby RFID reader device, the tag transmits digital data usually, an identifying inventory number, back to the reader. The reader is a device that has one or more antennas that emit radio waves and receive signals back from the RFID tag. Tags that communicate their identity and other information to nearby readers can be of two types passive or active. Passive RFID tags are powered by the electromagnetic waves emitted by the reader that works when it comes to the proximity of the reader and it does not have a battery. Whereas active RFID tags are powered by batteries thus it offers the long-range reading ability, ranging up to 100 meters.
These tags need not be aligned with the reader like a barcode. Thus serving as an ideal device for faster communication. Its widespread applications include attaching the RFID tags to cloths, cash, possessions, animals, and now also on humans. These tags serve in many ways like Identifying and locating the lost items, cashless money transfers, health monitoring, sharing of data, security keys, toll collection, Smartdust (for massively distributed sensor networks), and much more.
NFC and RFID they are same?- Now you might wonder how do these RFID tags differ from NFC. NFC is known as Near Field Communications is a subset of high-frequency RFID. Both operate at the 13.56 MHz frequency, while the major difference comes is that NFC is designed to be a secure form of data exchange, and an NFC device is capable of being both an NFC reader and an NFC tag. This unique feature allows one to one communication between NFC enabled devices.
Many researchers and scientists found that implanting RFID devices could open new doors to innovation. On 16 March 2009, an enthusiastic British scientist Mark Gasson surgically implanted a glass capsule RFID device into his left hand. And in successive experiments in April 2010 Gasson’s team demonstrated how a computer virus could wirelessly infect his implant and then be transmitted on to other systems. Gasson reasoned that with implanted technology the separation between man and machine can become theoretical because the technology can be perceived by the human as being a part of their body. Because of this development in our understanding of what constitutes our body and its boundaries he became credited as the first human infected by a computer virus. Let us see what are the challenges to this technology.
- Security Risks — One of the major concerns for RFID technology is Security risks. The information contained in the tags is vulnerable to alteration, deletion, and corruption. Most 1st generation tags could be easily cracked and reprogrammed by other readers posing a danger of data loss. Data encryption can be employed to ensure the information in tags is secure. More secured protocols for data transmission could be employed.
- Toxicity and Infection risk — Keith Johnson, a retired toxicologic pathologist, explained in a series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s stated that chip implants had “induced” malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats. But later leading cancer specialists reviewed this research and claimed that animal test results do not necessarily apply to humans, and thus from then glass-encased transponders are being implanted in the human body to prevent any kind of contamination and infection to the body.
- The trouble with metals and liquids — RFID has long had a difficult relationship working among liquids and metals, as both make it harder to get proper reads on assets. With metal, the problem stems from the radio waves bouncing all over the place. Liquids play havoc with RFID in that it can absorb signals sent from a tag. Thus a suitable material as a covering could be deployed on these tags.
- Lack of Awareness — Another commonly occurring concept was “think” which represents the lack of awareness of RFID technology, and the hesitation that prospective customers have about their RFID vision. It was found that the overall awareness of Gen-2 RFID within the retailer studied was generally low.
- It may reduce the freedom of a person if implanting the chips were made compulsory for the citizens. Questions could also occur if people could remove these chips later or not.
Body Implanted microchips -
The idea of humans implanted with microchips is no longer science fiction. Soon, you could be pointing directly to a machine and it would dispense your money. The doctor would directly scan the microchip implanted in your body and check your vital signs. By just waving your hand on a door you could unlock it. Microchip implants have evolved from something reserved for researchers to a daily life tool. Microchipping could be a stepping stone to a cyborg future where the human-machine interface will be common. RFID Implants used for humans are microchips about the size of a grain of rice encased in a bio-safe glass tube. This implant is inserted in the top of your hand under the skin and it rests safely between your thumb and finger.
Three Square Market embeds microchips in its employees — In August 2018 Three Square Market, a technology company that provides self-service mini-markets to hospitals, hotels, and company break rooms. Roughly 50 employees at its headquarters in River Falls, Wisconsin, who volunteered to have a chip injected into their hand. The chips the employees got are about the size of a very large grain of rice. They’re intended to make it a little easier to do things like get into the office, log on to computers, and buy food and drinks in the company cafeteria. Like many RFID chips, they are passive — they don’t have batteries, and instead, get their power from an RFID reader when it requests data from the chip. The company is also exploring some ways to use microchips outside the body.
Benefits of using microchip implants
The microchip implant can prove as a very useful tool, especially in emergencies where instant access to the right medical information can mean the difference between life and death.
- Easy accessibility to medical history — By implanting a chip on a patient’s body the could easily access the medical information without much effort. This could prove extremely useful in case of emergencies where the medical history and condition of a patient are needed. The doctors could also examine their patients sitting at their homes.
- Easy Identification — Passports, driver’s licenses, and so on, which are often used for identification purposes, are increasingly containing microchips. For example, passengers can be identified at an airport by scanning the microchip in their passports. It would require minimal changes in infrastructures at airports, and train and bus stations, to transit from scanned passports to scanned implanted chips. People would be identified easily just by walking past a reader.
- Institutional and Corporate ID — These microchips could replace the id cards which are widely used in offices and institutes. Daily works like login in the system, buying groceries, security keys, ordering items could be easily done through these tags.
- Easy tracking of persons — This is useful to keep track of persons such as patients, criminals, and children. For example, a criminal who escaped from prison could be tracked with the ID. An implanted microchip would make it significantly easier to track people within the critical time available.
- Ability to control many devices — An implanted microchip brings a digital identity into the real world by providing the ability to automatically control a large number of devices and equipment. Imagine being able to start your car automatically, open the front door of your house as you approach it.
Closing Thoughts — The future of microchipping is very exciting and it looks very promising. With more and more companies investing in this technology its shortcomings will be reduced. The new era of information security and cyber safety will produce safer and harmless RFID implants.