20th December, 2016
The implications of embeddable technology are already being seriously considered by industry leaders. What could it mean for your business?
How many times have you locked your keys in your car or left your swipe card for the office at home?
How often have you been left shivering with embarrassment at completing your grocery shopping because you realise that you’ve left your wallet at home?
We all go through the regular ritual of checking our pockets and bags to make sure we have the keys and cards we need to access our homes, workplaces and bank accounts.
But what if we could remove the need to carry around all of those keys, cards and other access and identification technology forever?
That future is now a reality for a small percentage of the population that has embraced embeddable technology.
Embeddables, now more commonly referred to as ‘insertables’, refers to tiny Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) implants placed under the skin that can be activated and scanned by RFID readers.
These tiny cylindrical chips encased in protective glass are about the size of a grain of rice and can be inserted into the skin using a syringe, normally between the thumb and forefinger of a person’s hand.
The technology involved is not dissimilar to the chips we place under the skin of cats and dogs but the growing use of embeddables in people is already having profound effects, particularly in the business world.
In the same way your card or phone can swipe you into a building or pay for your groceries, insertable RFID chips now mean you can do the exact same thing by a simple swipe of your hand.
The first wave of this technology has already been utilised in the design of smarter, more secure office buildings.
Epicentre, a high tech office complex in Stockholm, made headlines last year when it announced that around 700 workers would be voluntarily fitted with tiny RFID implants that would enable them to gain entry to the office, to operate the photocopier and even to buy lunch.
Users can even personalise the information they store on their own chip which can also be programmed to interact with apps on their smart phone.
This is only the beginning of the possible applications of embeddable technology we might be faced with, according to Futurist and MYOB Chief Technology Advisor, Simon Raik-Allen.
Raik-Allen believes in the practicality of the technology and its endless potential benefits for business.
“Instead of passing out a business card, we’ll pass our wrist over a potential client’s inbuilt scanner, or to take a payment we’ll ask someone to swipe their hand, rather than their phone or credit card,” Raik-Allen says.
As Apple continues its ongoing battle with the banks over the proprietary technology in Apple Pay, the rise of embeddable technology may render smartphone payments obsolete before their time.
While only one case study, Raik-Allen says examples such as Epicentre highlight the increasing numbers of innovative professionals who are looking to streamline their access to secure personal and professional information.
“Embeddable technology is likely to form a key part of the workplace, helping us to train more effectively, access and share knowledge quicker and interface with highly complex and rapidly evolving systems.
“While we don’t really have comprehensive data on how many people have RFID implants, retailers estimate the total number is somewhere in the vicinity 30,000 to 50,000 worldwide.”
Real-time insights and information are the lifeblood of every successful business so the effects of embeddable technology in retail and logistics are promising to be seismic.
Anyone that’s been frustrated by not being able to access a signal when trying to access a GPS map on their phone may be interested in an experimental use of embeddable tech called the Southpaw.
In what could have a profound impact on industries that rely on logistics and their employees’ ability to navigate in remote locations, electronic engineer Brian McEvoy has designed and tested (on himself) what’s been called the first internal compass.
By sealing a miniature compass inside a silicon coat and implanting it under his skin, an ultra-thin whisker then brushes the underside of his skin when he faces north.
Although this may seem like a concept straight out of a science fiction novel, these applications of embeddable technology are also the future of retail and what Simon Raik-Allen calls ‘the augmented shopkeeper‘.
“They’re working in the back office when a customer enters their store and even though there’s no bell on the door, they feel the presence of the customer through a small nerve activated on the back of their neck or hand.
“As the customer walks around the shop, they’re made aware of their movements through a map of nerves that lightly fire as they shift position and a blink of the eye brings up the linked store cameras in a retina display, showing what the customer is looking at as the shopkeeper goes out to greet them.”
Biometric data is already making inroads to many industries, as wearable technology such as smart watches are currently revolutionising the fitness industry, enabling people to track their heart rate and steps during a workout.
Raik-Allen believes the fitness industry will be truly transformed by providing users with a more constant source of embedded biometric data and also says the travel industry will be similarly improved through embeddable tech.
“With all of your personal data stored in an RFID implant, business trips will be made much easier by simply scanning your chip and connected luggage tag at a single airport terminal, instead of wasting time in lines to show paper passports and visas.”
While this level of adoption is still many years away, the current implications for embeddable technology are already being considered by industry leaders.
In a 2015 presentation to various tech conferences entitled Kill all Passwords, PayPal’s global head of developer evangelism, Jonathan Leblanc, said that embeddable, injectable and ingestible devices are the next wave in identification for mobile payments and other sensitive online interactions.
This raises an important issue. Currently, when your credit card details are stolen, you cancel the card and get a new one.
If someone stole the details of an embedded chip, does that mean a trip to the doctor?
“Combining the physical and the technological, and making them both accessible through the internet, will require an enormously enhanced level of security,” says Raik-Allen.
“An embedded smartphone that’s been hacked by malware might be a major irritation, but someone able to disrupt your artificial heart or hack the functions of your embedded AI to affect your behaviour could be a life-threatening risk.
“Similarly, business leaders need to be aware of the impacts and opportunities that embeddable technology will have on their business, especially in the early adoption phase, so they can leverage it to help their business rather than hinder it.”
With any revolutionary new technology, moral and cultural decisions also need to be considered to ensure these advancements drive humanity towards a utopian rather than dystopian society.
Simon Raik-Allen uses the examples of smartphone etiquette or social media standards to illustrate how society has evolved new rules and norms which ultimately shape the adoption of technology.
“A helicopter has the ability to end a bushfire through water-bombing, but it also has the same ability to start a war so the technology itself is neither good nor evil.
“There are definite challenges and barriers with embeddable technology that we’ve discussed but the opportunities in technology, fitness and retail are enormous.”
While much of the recent conversation around embeddables has been focused on their applications for business, it’s their potential for saving lives that has interested medical researchers for more than a decade.
Dr John Halamka, the CIO of Harvard Medical School, put himself forward in 2005 as a human guinea pig for testing an early iteration of RFID implant in order to measure the risks and rewards of embeddable tech in medicine.
While current regulations in many countries prevent licensed medical practitioners from inserting RFID devices into people, Raik-Allen says it’s the medical industry that most excites him about the future of embeddable tech.
“Right now, a doctor can look at you when you’re sick by prodding you, poking you and looking into your ears and nose, but they don’t have the best access to the insights and information on what’s really going on in your body.
“Medical screenings are costing society and the government millions of dollars, without necessarily being the most effective form of understanding the human body but with embeddable technology, the possibilities are endless as it could save millions of dollars and thousands of lives.”
Whatever the future holds, it appears that embeddable technology is here to stay, regardless of the discussion and debate that will no doubt continue in the coming years and decades.