February 10, 2016
Body implants are a staple of science fiction. They turn members of futuristic societies into super-humans, making them stronger, smarter and more capable than an average person.
Implants helped Johnny Mnemonic increase his memory capacity; they fuel Iron Man’s suit and keep him alive; and they do much, much more.
As amazing as body implants sound, though, how close are we normal humans to getting one of those? In other words, are contemporary science, medicine and technology advanced enough to allow us to seamlessly meld with the technology and actually improve our lives? Keep reading to find out.
We’ll start by introducing Northstar, a subdermal LED sensor that lights up when it’s in the vicinity of a magnet. It can be used to detect the magnetic north and act as a compass. Implanting such a basic device may sound like a silly and needlessly dangerous procedure to go through, but these biohackers did it anyway.
Before dismissing it for being an “LED tattoo,” note that the device, dubbed Northstar V1, is still in its first iteration. The next version due to be released sometime this year will allow users to control the device via hand gestures. Grindhouse Wetware, the company behind the product, acknowledges that Northstar may seem like a simple gadget, but its purpose is to be much more than just subdermal bling — it exists to “prove the possibility of implanting technology in the human body, and will pave the way for more advanced and functional augmentations.”
If you think having LEDs in your forearm is silly, you may like this better: an antenna implanted in the skull. In 2004, Neil Harbisson had the device implanted in his cranium in an effort to fight color blindness. A camera at the far end of the device records whatever he is seeing and converts the image color data into a series of sound waves, which he has memorized. Instead of seeing various hues, he “hears” them with the help of a camera he calls Eyeborg.
Speaking of senses, here’s one implant that gave Rich Lee, a biohacker, one sense that humans usually don’t have: the power of echolocation.
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