I’ve always wanted to be a super hero.
Weird lead right?
I’ve always wanted to be a super hero BUT I’ve never been chosen by a cosmic force, exposed to a high tech industrial accident or had the psychology to turn myself into a highly trained living weapon. While I know my body does some odd things, none of my genetic gifts could be used to rescue a cat from a burning building or foil a bank robbery.
Of course, there is always the ‘Iron Man’. I become so skilled at engineering I BUILD myself into a super hero. Well, provided I discover some power source that could substitute for an ARC Reactor. I’ve known for a few years though that if the impulse was strong enough I could always just grab a scalpel and turn myself into an underpowered Magneto.
Following on from the ‘clean’ side I reported on last week, bio-hacking is a small community with big ideas. The only problem is that sometimes the money, and maybe a perceived ‘big business control’, cut out some very interested people from the more conventional channels to turn yourself into a character from Tetsuo.
By inserting a tiny rare earth magnet in my finger, I have been told I can miraculously lift paper clips with one finger, and ‘feel’ magnetic fields. However, barring a catastrophic stationary cupboard accident, or a moment when I absolutely MUST find a Wifi network, these powers are unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of villans in The City. In fact, this body mod is so underwhelming one man reports he routinely totally forgets about it. If you still fancy it though, here is a hipster’s guide to getting the most acceptable bio-hacking mod on the planet.
The bleeding edge of DIY bio-hacking is far more fascinating, and dominated by two equally amazing identities, Grindhouse Wetwares, which is principally Tim Cannon, and the self-defined genderless Lepht Anonym (Lepht uses ‘it’ on the bio, so I will join the convention).
Lepht Anonyms fame (or infamy) began around 2010/2011. It did the magnets thing before it was cool. And it did it at home, on itself, not at some fancy pants piercer in town. Spending some time following its blog and other things it ‘bioproofs’ with off the shelf mouldable silicon, and once sterilised and anesthetised itself with a bottle of vodka. After playing with both magnets and RFID chips, it has begun work to construct a subdermal compass device. It has given a fascinating and painful talk on both its work and its outlook.
I will not attempt to pretend it’s work is ‘normal’, and neither does Lepht. It has referenced multiple times its terrible health, though it seems to approach biohacking not just as a way of making up for it’s physical failings (check out Lepht’s abortive thermistor project below), but also Lepht sees itself as a viable test bed to risk. There is a distinct lack of self preservation in its projects. However, Lepht’s work makes two important, if brutal points:
- The legal and medical systems in place are a huge hindrance to the normal (un-university/corporation funded) person interested in bio-hacking
- That magnets in your fingers (on it’s own) is one of the most pointless expressions of what could be one of the most imaginative and fascinating developing fields
Grindhouse wetwares is a slightly different entity. In stark contrast to Lephts borderline self-mutilation philosophies, Grindhouse are trying to bring a level of professionalism into their ‘offices’. The bottlenose is a haptic feedback device, which does use magnetic implants, but only as an interface to the device.
Sometimes, data gathering/sensing devices need to be exposed above the skin, say a camera or infra-red reciever. Lepht notes in her talk above an abortive experiment with a transdermal device i.e. “things sticking out”. “If you’re considering anything, got any projects – please put them completely under the skin; don’t think of having things hanging out, because it goes so wrong so fast. It’s bad; it gets stinky and nasty and bad”. Haptic feedback sensors get around this problem very elegantly. Have the sensor outside, as a wearable device, then convert the data into something that can be transmitted through skin to a bioproof object.
Grindhouse are moving on now to a new project, and what seems to be the first attempt at sub-dermal computing. The Circadia is a data gathering computer board, sealed against all the gooey parts and stuck under the skin. Circadia is designed to be a wireless, selfpowered device which monitors the biological health of it’s user. The video below shows Tim travelling to Germany and his first reactions immediately after the operation.
One of the most interesting design considerations of this ongoing experiment is the ways that Circadia avoids the pitfalls of Lepht’s transdermal thermistor. Firstly, the board has a number of LED’s, which provide a form of immediate data display for the user, without being exposed through the skin. The lights shine through under the skin, and can give simple, immediate information from the device. Possibly more importantly, the device can be recharged through induction, a lot like some consumer goods and UK buses. By placing an induction coil against his skin, at the right point on the device, Tim can recharge without worrying about usb ports poking out of his elbow getting infected.
Biohacking is a developing science obviously. There are problems, there will be failures. However, intelligent, brave, and undeniably weird people are working hard and occasionally putting their health at risk in pursuit of improving the very nature of human life.