Biohacking, or bringing technology into the human body to augment its functionality, has been a thing for actually a long time now. Well, at least since 2005. That's when Amal Graafstra, known as sort of a forefather of the trend, got his first implant.
The chip he put in his hand, along with a few others since, are the kinds of devices Graafstra's company, Dangerous Things, now sells: very small, unpowered radio-frequency identification chips that replace things like card keys or digital business cards.
Unlocking your building door with an RFID implant isn't the most "cyborg" image one could cook up when hearing the word biohacking, but chipping, as it's called, is still the most common kind of biohacking. The largest reason why things haven't progressed much farther: power supplies.
"The general awareness of this kind of thing, this kind of human augmentation and acceptance, I guess, is rapidly approaching," Graafstra told Circa. "And so now, we're talking about going beyond identifier chips."
Dangerous Things’ next chip implant is a larger device called VivoKey that actually computes encryption transactions necessary for verifying things like payments. It, unlike RFID chips, does require power, and it gets through wireless induction when a device like a phone is held near it. But that transaction-by-transaction application is about as far as inductive powering will go. For dreamed-up devices that will need to be on all the time, like the hypothetical "embedded FitBit" that ethnographer and Ithica assistant professor Lauren Britton, who works with biohackers, told Circa the biohacking community is dead set on achieving, neither today’s commercial batteries, which Graafstra says are too dangerous to implant, or inductive powering will good enough.
"If you're talking about a consumer-grade product … that battery could explode," Graafstra said. "We've seen Samsung Note 7s and e-cigarette systems and hoverboards catching on fire."
Of course, this doesn't mean there aren't some biohacking companies that are trying to find ways to push innovation in the meantime, anyhow.
There's the North Sense compass by Cyborg Nest. It sends vibrations through the body when pointed north – essentially bringing humans the ability to sense direction. But since it runs on a battery that needs regular charging via USB, it only attaches to the skin rather than being implanted into it, feeling kind of like a glorified wearable.
And the implantables from company Grindhouse Wetware, like the Circadia basic body vitals reader or North Star body mod light, might give a bit more of a “beyond human” feel over chipping, but their adoption has been limited since they run on commercial (unsafe) batteries.
These devices, and others like them, will be safer and be able to do more once "once that problem of power storage is really solved and solved in a good cheap way," Graafstra said.
Though researchers are figuring out ways to harvest energy right from the human body, that’s not a project that will be coming to amateur-level biohacking anytime super soon.
So for now, enthusiasts may have to come to terms with the fact that the “cyborg” phase of biohacking is still a ways away.