LED implants: A new device for the biohacker cyborg arsenal
Those of you sickly fascinated by the Circadia subdermal implant, a phone sized device from Grindhouse Wetware that Tim Cannon had installed in his forearm two years ago, will be happy to learn the same group of biohackers has released a new offering — and it’s only slightly less macabre than its predecessor. Not content to rest upon their laurels, the folks at Grindhouse Wetware have been using this holiday season to perfect the strange art of lodging irregularly shaped electronic devices beneath the skin. A week ago at Dusseldorf Cyborg Fair, they released their latest brainchild, the Northstar V1.
On the surface the Northstar dimly resembles the Circadia — of which Time Cannon, the device’s designer, said, “Our first prototype, the Circadia, was so crazy that I could only use myself as a guinea pig in good conscience.” Apparently, the new Northstar has a few more takers, as several members of the Grindhouse team volunteered to have the implant installed.
The size of a half-dollar, the Northstar V1 contains several LED lights that turn on when a magnet is passed above them, eerily illuminating the user’s skin with an effect that imitates the bioluminescence that some fish and insects possess. The original idea for the device came from tattoo recipients who wanted a way to backlight their body art, and indeed, there is a long tradition of crossover between the biohacker and tattoo community.
It’s a rare breed of human who wants oddly shaped flashing LED devices parked inside their arm, and the folks who frequent tattoo parlors seem to contain a rich assortment of just such people. However, as the state of the art progresses and these devices become smaller and less obtrusive, it’s likely they will be coveted by a wider population. But before such a reality can come to pass, a much wider and more attractive panoply of use cases will need to emerge. (Caution: the video below contains graphic images.)
This is not to say possessing a small patch of glowing skin doesn’t have a kind of appeal, but it’s the appeal that features largely at Halloween parties and rave gatherings. On the other hand, large segments of the population have been demonstrably willing to install electronic implants in their body if it provides some clear health advantage, the pacemaker being the best example.
The biohacker community has not been blind to this, which is why the Grindhouse Wetware team plans to include biometric functionality in their next version of the Northstar. This could include taking blood pressure or blood sugar levels and reporting it to the user via Bluetooth on their mobile phone.
With the world’s ever increasing number of diabetes sufferers, this would rocket the Northstar into a new category of demand. Even without FDA approval, it seems likely there will be plenty of adventurous and/or desperate patients willing to receive the implant in order to get a better handle on their disease — at which point the Northstar will no doubt attract the interest of the medical industrial complex and enter into the fray of mainstream medical gadgetry.
In the meantime, those interested in backlighting their tattoos or just being on the forefront of a new revolution in biohacking have a fresh and exciting means of achieving that end.