Johnathan Carlson had an RFID chip implanted into his hand by a Lincoln tattoo artist.
Carlson is a freshman computer and electrical engineering double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He said he’s not sure how he found out about RFID chip implants, but the idea came to him through the biohacking community. Biohackers are people interested in technology implants that make life more convenient. Carlson said he saw a YouTube video of a man who had implanted a full circuit board in his arm. He had built an app to read it, and project medical information such as his body temperature. Carlson said the app could predict when the man would get sick. The board looked 3 to 4 inches long and blinked beneath the skin.
Carlson said he would never think about getting something like that implanted, but a small RFID chip is much less gruesome.
An RFID chip, or radio-frequency identification, is a much smaller piece of hardware. The glass capsule is comparable to the length of a grain of rice. There’s similar technology in student NCards or implants in pets. While a pet implant is used as a tag to identify the animal’s owner, a chip in a human is nothing more than a key to open things.
“Think of it just as a button,” Carlson said.
A typical RFID chip can’t hold much information. Carlson said his chip can hold about a Kilobyte, or 150 characters. That’s just enough for a tweet. He said the original plan was to get a magnet implanted in his finger to detect magnetic fields, but with more research Carlson saw the practicality of getting an RFID chip.
“It has unlimited applications,” Carlson said. “It’s just a matter of where is it already been implemented and where am I willing to implement it.”
By programming the chip to hold an intricate password and installing scanners where needed, Carlson said he plans to use the chip to open websites, unlock his laptop or even open the doors of his future home. Such a long password would increase security on his laptop, and always having your key can make things more convenient. Carlson said he’s used to working with electrical hardware for his own personal applications, so installing such devices wouldn’t be hard.
He chose to place the implant in his left hand in the fleshy space between his pointer finger and thumb. In the future, Carlson said he’s looking to get another chip. The second would be an NFC chip, or near-field communication.
“NFC chips typically can hold more information than RFID,” Carlson said. “NFC could program to hold my contact information or the entire app of Flappy Bird.”
The implantation is a very simple process. The capsule is injected via needle and doesn’t require any stitches. Carlson said he approached 15 different piercing places before piercing artist Matt Bavougian of Onyx Piercing studio agreed to do the procedure.
Bavougian didn’t think much of Carlson’s request for an implant. Alhough it’s not that common in the Lincoln area, he said he has had similar requests before, but customers always backed out. After corresponding through several emails and an in-person meeting, Bavougian said he knew Carlson was serious. The procedure itself wasn’t all that difficult.
“The chip is classified as a piercing in the state of Nebraska,” Bavougian said. “It varies from state to state. It’s kind of like doing an earlobe.”
Bavougain said as long as the task is within legal boundaries and the client expresses general cognition about the process, he’s willing to perform the piercing.
Carlson bought his chip online from Dangerous Things, a biohacking company that specializes in implantable devices. In an online video, founder Amal Graafstra discusses the chip implant in greater detail, as well as some public concerns. . Carlson said he is the first of his biohacker friends to get the implant, and Bavougian said he thinks Carlson might be the first in Nebraska.
“I think a lot of it comes down to: are people willing to put something like a chip in their body?” Carlson said.