I have recently taken a deeper step into the connected world. A step that some will describe as being interesting, and that some will describe as being crazy. To be honest, as happy as I am since I have taken this step, I have to admit that I fall on both the interesting and crazy sides myself. Before getting any further, I should mention that the "step" I took was implanting an NFC chip in my hand.
The chip was implanted in my left hand and sits between my thumb and pointer finger. Surprisingly — or thanks to the internet not so surprisingly — a kit that included all the necessary gear was easy to purchase. I made the purchase through a company called Dangerous Things, and for those curious — I paid $99 for a 13.56MHz ISO14443A & NFC Type 2 NTAG216 RFID chipset that is encased in a 2x12mm cylindrical biocompatible glass casing. Essentially that means the chip is safe to implant, and that it will work with all NFC compliant reader/writer devices. That includes USB devices as well as NFC capable mobile phones. This chip is pre-loaded in an injection syringe assembly, and while I wouldn't trust (or suggest you trust) just anyone to do the procedure, I will say the process was quick, easy — and despite the large size of the needle — relatively painless.
And for reference, aside from the chip and injection syringe, the remaining items in the kit are medical related (gloves and such). Another personal reason for choosing Dangerous Things was the background on the company. The founder, Amal Graafstra, has been doing this for roughly a decade, and even nicer for those looking to get this done — there is solid documentation offered which may really help make this a reality for some.
On becoming a cyborg
I should make it clear that I am not trying to become a cyborg or anything like that. For me, getting this implant came down to having a strong interest in technology and the connected space, and more to the point is that I am someone who likes seeing technology integrated into life. Or in this case, my body. Along with not considering myself a cyborg, I do not feel comfortable using another common term here, biohacker. I basically think of this implant as another form of wearable, albeit, a semi-permanent form of wearable. Along with my interest in technology, I also have a strong interest in body modification and tattoos.
For me, getting this chip implanted seemed a good way to bridge those interests. And while I realize getting an NFC chip implanted in your hand is not common, I have to mention how hard it was to find people in the piercing and body modification industry (at least locally) that were interested in performing this procedure. Of course, that could also be due to their lack of interest in technology, or maybe due to them not knowing me personally. Putting that aside, how about we get more into my thought process in the lead up to the implant.
Leading up to the implant
It would be hard for me to recommend this procedure to many people. In fact, I would describe this as a procedure that should be given considerable thought. I had been reading about similar procedures for several years, and had been strongly considering it myself for a little more than a year. In the past, I had put it off due to not wanting to do the research. There was also the case of getting the necessary hardware and the somewhat limited use potential. Well, I finally did the research and that lead me to Dangerous Things — who as mentioned earlier — offer a kit with everything you need. As for the limited use potential, we'll get into that more in a bit, but I can say that will come down to how much you are willing to spend, and to how much you are willing and able to build.
Implanting the Chip
I mentioned this isn't a procedure that just anyone should get done, but actually finding someone willing to implant the chip took some effort. As I found, not everyone is going to be willing to implant an NFC chip in your hand. In my case I ended up getting the procedure done by a friend of a friend. And to clarify, that friend of a friend is a medical professional. They had never implanted an NFC chip, however they have been in the medical profession for many years. Furthermore, said medical professional was also very happy to read the documentation provided by the folks at *Dangerous Things. To that point, that documentation also made things much more comfortable for me. Bottom line here, once you come to a decision to get this done, make sure you have someone you can really trust.
Assuming you find someone willing and able, the actual process of implanting the chip is easy. As I said earlier, it was quick, easy, and relatively painless. Setting up the work area and cleaning my hand took much longer than the actual needle stick. The needle is large and the person getting the chip implanted can expect to feel the initial stick, a push (to get the needle in deeper), a bit of a pull back (of the needle), and then the deposit of the chip which is followed by the removal of the needle. And as you may have noticed in some of the images, there was a bit of blood. Overall pretty simple — that is provided you found someone comfortable and capable of doing the procedure.
There really isn't much to the healing process. The needle is likely the biggest needle you've seen or been stuck with, but it is just that — a needle stick. That means there isn't any cutting or stitches involved. Essentially, you'll just have a red mark where the needle was inserted. This mark will heal up, and in my case, a month later I can only see a faint mark on my skin. You will also be able to feel the chip under your skin.
Aside from making sure your hand is clean before the stick and the site is kept clean afterward during the healing process, the main thing you want to keep in mind is to take it easy during the first few weeks. The folks at Dangerous Things suggest not messing with the tag, or pressing on the tag, and light use of your hand for the first two weeks. I followed those suggestions myself and things healed nicely and without issue.
That brings another point to consider. I've already mentioned putting serious thought in before getting this done, and also making sure you find someone you trust to do the procedure, however you should also consider what happens if things go bad. In my case, having a medical professional (friend of a friend) do the procedure would not have mattered much if it got infected afterward due to my lack of care. Basically, had things gone bad and I needed the chip removed — that could have created a rather awkward situation (with uncomfortable questions) if I had to go to a doctors office or emergency room.
Putting the Chip to Use
Up until this point I have been using my chip to secure my phone. Pretty boring and basic, but I had a reason for that. First though, I am currently using a 2013 Moto X, and have the chip programmed as a Motorola Skip. I also tested, and would suggest those without a Moto X use the NFC Secure Unlock app which is available from the Google Play Store.
I decided to keep the use simple and limited to securing my phone initially to keep costs down. This meant I could buy the chip kit (for $99) and spend no additional money until I knew there wasn't going to be any issues. Now that the chip has been in and has fully healed, I am exploring other options. I've been considering a few options including opening my garage door, unlocking my front door, or unlocking my car. The catch here is that I am happy having my phone secured using the chip, and will likely implant another chip in my right hand for whatever I want to control (open or unlock) next. The fact that I am willing to get another chip implanted should speak to how easy the procedure was.
Actually, the why is the hardest part to answer. And to be perfectly honest I am not sure I have a good answer. My best response would be to satisfy my curiosity. I also wouldn't suggest anyone get an implant just for this, but showing people how I can unlock my phone has turned into somewhat of a fun trick.
We don't condone or encourage anyone to get an NFC implant, and take no responsibility if you do. Be sure to think it through and know what you're getting into should you choose to do so.