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Would you inject a sensor into your body to track your health?

Published Jun 1st, 2021 8:30PM EDT
injectable chips
Image: luismolinero/Adobe

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Fitness trackers were once little more than glorified pedometers, but as wearable technology advanced by leaps and bounds we can now get everything from our heart rate to our VO2 max delivered right to our smartphones via sensors built into our watches and bands. It’s an incredible amount of health data that is tracked in the background without us even thinking about it, but what if we had even more? If we could track a mountain of health data without having to charge anything overnight, would people adopt it, or be weirded out by it? That’s a question that researchers from Columbia University may soon have to grapple with as they work on injectable sensors that have the potential to warn of health issues before they become a real problem.

As Digital Trends reports, the breakthrough is all about shrinking technology as much as possible, and it might not be long — relatively speaking — before these kinds of tiny chips are available for use. The real question is, will anyone be comfortable using them?

The work, which is the subject of a new paper in Science Advances, was made possible thanks to a partnership between Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. The company is one of the most highly-respected when it comes to manufacturing chips for mobile devices, including those that power many of Apple’s products. They know what they’re doing, and that expertise came in handy, especially since the goal was to create a chip capable of interfacing via ultrasound while also being small enough to be injected without much discomfort.

These are still the early days of injectable electronics, and for the study, the tiny chip proved capable of relaying information on body temperature but not much else. That was more of a design choice than a technological limitation, however, and the researchers say that there are a lot of other things a system like this could keep an eye on.

We’ve all heard the completely off-the-wall conspiracy theories about companies or governments tracking us via injectable sensors or chips. Some even claim that the coronavirus vaccine rollout was a plan to inject microscopic chips into people’s bodies. Those claims are absurd and easily debunked, but injecting chips into people’s bodies (for health, instead of tracking their every waking movement) is indeed on the horizon. At that point, it will be even more difficult to separate the outlandish claims from reality.

It’ll be interesting to see how this technology grows and evolves over time, and whether it can provide serious health benefits in the form of disease prevention (or something else). Unless scientists can make a good argument for why we should inject chips like these into our bodies, fear of the technology may win out.