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Discover The World’s First Implanted Travel Bug

RetouchedXZYou could say geocaching has truly gotten under my skin.

As of last Sunday, I’m now the proud bearer of the world’s first implanted travel bug. Fellow players can discover and log TB60ZG6 The Mark of The Geocacher by simply tapping an NFC-capable smartphone to the implant site on my right hand.

d5877eac-975b-4e22-896a-5b33466aacedMy trackable’s name plays on the common accusation leveled at voluntary microchip implantees that we all bear the Mark of the Beast, the anti-Christ symbol displayed on the forehead or right hand of devil worshippers in the Bible. And the accompanying artwork is adapted from an Andy Warhol original on the same subject.

For those interested in the science here: Under my skin, I have a 2x12mm Radio Frequency Identification (or RFID) tag – much like the microchips implanted in cats, dogs and horses. It runs on the 13.56MHz spectrum and is fully compliant with Near Field Communication technology – the short-range, wireless data-sharing protocol found in newer Android, Windows and Blackberry phones.

Every time you use a swipe card to access your office building or unlock your hotel room, you’re likely using RFID, albeit in a flat-tag format.

Mine is a glass ampoule – about the size of a grain of rice – which contains one of the brand-new NTag216 chips. It’s from American biotech startup Dangerous Things, which last year ran a hugely successful Indiegogo campaign to launch this product. My chip arrived on a Monday and I had it installed the following day; the stitches came out a week later and now you can’t tell it’s there unless I point it out.

Step by step: Photo No 1 shows my still healing hand after having my stitches removed; while the next two images show my TB being discovered on a Nokia Lumia 820.

Step by step: Photo No 1 shows my still healing hand after having my stitches removed; while the next two images show my TB being discovered on a Nokia Lumia 820.

Before you ask, yes it did hurt to get implanted. No, I don’t worship Satan, unless he’s a geocacher and then maybe I’d consider it.

My implant – nicknamed Micro – is a passive RFID tag, which works much the same as our own TBs. They can’t be tracked in real time; only after the fact and only with the right software. So no, a shady Government or geo-organisation can’t trace my every movement; the tag requires a reader and power source to be brought to it. As its maximum operating range is only 5mm, I’ll likely notice if somebody is standing THAT close.

And, no, I don’t fret that somebody will cut off my hand to access my chip.

palmflat (1)

Handiwork: An X-ray of my left hand, sporting a 3x7mm 52 Gauss rare-earth magnet in my ring finger (great for finding nano caches) and my first RFID ampoule between my thumb and first digit.

As you can probably guess, I get asked those questions A LOT. However, my TB isn’t my first implant; I also sport a rare-earth magnet implanted in my left ring finger (this lets me feel electromagnetic fields and perform ‘party tricks’ with magnetic items; it’s also great for finding nanos) and a low-frequency, older-model RFID tag in the same hand (which I use to unlock my car – and, in time, the door to my flat – without the need for keys).

I’m not the only either; there are thousands of us out there – members of the body modification, tech and grinding/biohacking communities; each trying to improve our minds and bodies for a thousand different reasons. Admittedly, though, there aren’t too many others here in New Zealand, and I’ve yet to hear of another geocacher who has one.

Reaction to my implants from family and friends has been pretty good. And the geo-community has, so far, been overwhelming positive to the idea of my subcutaneous TB. Previously  I did have one rather disturbed muggle accuse me on Twitter of Satan worship but he thought his microwave was waging war against him so I didn’t pay too much attention.

My geo-stripes: Immediately after implantation. The violet line denotes the position of my tag.

My geo-stripes: Immediately after implantation. The violet line denotes the position of my tag.

Any horrified looks or snide comments have largely come from health professionals, leading my friends to concoct two sure-fire retorts for when I am confronted with the inevitable “But, but … why” question.

The first – “You wouldn’t bat an eyelid if I told you I’d just had breast implants” – is mostly aimed at sceptics in the medical field; the second – “It’s the release mechanism for my Adamantium claws” – is an all-purpose riposte I appreciate far more now that X-Men’s Wolverine (aka actor Hugh Jackman) has taken up geocaching.

As my NFC tag offers just 868 bytes of storage, it was easy to decide how I would use it. Other implantees have uploaded hardcore encryption keys so their personal data cannot fall into unwanted hands, some prefer them to communicate with their phones, unlock their homes or start their cars. American game designer Zoe Quinn plans to install a copy of Deus Ex on her.

Uploading my TB was relatively simple; using the NFC Interactor app on a Nokia Lumia 820 phone I wrote a test tag that would open my trackable’s listing page on Geocaching.com. After confirming that tag worked as I intended, I copied the same coding to my implant. The script is not as fancy as I’d hoped but, for now, it works just fine.

TBtat

Geo-ink: The travel bug tattoo icon.

As well as advancing what I jokingly call my cyborg upgrade, my TB implant has let me qualify for Groundspeak’s human trackable iconheld by a mere 150 people worldwide. Until now, it had just been awarded for tattooed travel bugs (I’ve long wanted some geo-ink but can’t settle on a design).

Further down the track, I plan to host a geo-event at a local café or bar so local geocachers can discover my implant themselves. I’m looking forward to that.

But, to-date, my absolute highlight has to be reading the line on my TB’s page that says this item is currently “in the hands of the owner”. Truer words were never written.

11 comments

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  1. Ruben H.

    This implant is really awesome!!! I don’t do it myself (yet), but such things interest me enormously! It’s the future!
    I have a trackable tattoo in my neck and since yesterday it’s officially a human trackable!!! Thanks to the link in your article for Human Trackables. I didn’t know you can do that. :-P

    1. kjwx

      Thank you, Ruben. Fingers crossed maybe one day Groundspeak – or another geo-merchandise outlet – will release a special human trackable coin or travel bug that only we 150 or so icon holders can buy.

      1. Ruben H.

        Off course we can make one ourselves and give it a try to release one. I know a lot of shops where you can send in a pre-designed coin and they make it. ;-)

        1. Harry

          id be interested in this :) – have a TB on my calf

  2. kjwx

    UPDATE: Fellow geo-blogger Ruben H – himself the owner of a fabulous TB tattoo – has compiled a list of Groundspeak’s trackable humans. If you’re considering getting your own geo-ink, it’s well worth a look before you head to the tattoo parlour.
    He’s No 77 on the list, I’m No 113.

    1. Ruben H.

      The list is far from complete. Groundspeak told me that we are with about 350 official human trackables. That’s 350 people who send an e-mail to Groundspeak with the question to make it official. But there are a lot more tattoos done and not everybody finds the way (or even knows it) to make it official. ;-)
      So … starting today the list I made is now editable for everybody. Anyone with an official human trackable icon can put his/her data on the sheet. :-)

    2. Ruben H.

      The list isn’t editable anymore. Only I can make changes. You can react to the list with the link of the Human trackable in your message and I’ll post it on the list. Why this way? because somebody found it very amusing to delete all my work! Fortunately I have a backup. ;-)

  3. palmytomo

    Hi Kylie, The door opening and locking would be lovely, but what I really, really want, is an implant that forever can do all my logins on the computer without fault or delay. Maybe it would need interpreter interface software, and custom-to-context software for different sites. Regards, Tomo

  4. MzBizkitz

    Wow! I love the sound of this :o) Had to double check that it wasn’t April Fool’s Day for a second. Technology is moving on so quickly these days, fascinating to read about and thanks for sharing your story.
    Regards, Bex

  5. Some Gal

    On the list of Human trackables do you have them listed in alphabetical order or when they were added to the site or by name of item?

    1. Ruben H.

      You can sort the list in alphabetical order of each column.

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