Body hacking technology improves everyday tasks for biotech pioneers

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SAN ANTONIO – It can be called human augmentation, biotechnology, wearable tech, or just wearables for short, but if you think it’s just hip stuff for millennial cyber citizens, you’d be wrong.  

When you put on a pair of cheaters to read news on your iPhone, you are using a “body hack," today’s term for improving upon what your were born with. The same goes for braces for crooked teeth, pacemakers for the heart or cochlear implants for the hard of hearing. 

Today’s options for body hacking, however, go far beyond simple improvements to your sight or hearing. Trevor Goodman, spokesperson for BDYHAX 2019, said body augmentation is reaching deep into experimental science to improve your everyday life. 

As versed as he is, Goodman only has one body hack -- a radio-frequency identification chip that was recently implanted into his hand.  

“It's from a company called Vivo Key, which is not technically released yet," he said.

To explain how RFID works, imagine waving your hand in front of your phone or computer and getting access to your bank account.  

“When you log into Facebook or Google, you are using credentials, cryptographic credentials. They are wanting to store those credentials in your hand, so it’s a password management system. You would never use any passwords. You would just go blup, blup," Goodman said as he waved his hand in the air.   

The process of implantation is pretty straightforward. A needle with a small round chip packed in the cylinder is inserted under the skin in the meaty section between the thumb and forefinger. There’s no blood initially, but later there will be some seepage in the bandage.  

The friend who implanted Goodman’s wearable has many of these chips already in his body. Some can start a car, instantly send you downloaded videos, adjust your air conditioner’s thermostat, open locked doors or store your medical information, and the list goes as far as your imagination can take you.

“You may have a key fob. It's like putting a key fob in your hand, so if you lose your keys all the time, you can use that,” Goodman said, explaining one of the more popular uses for the device.  

Basically, anything that you can use a digital key for, you can use biotechnology to do.

There are ethical issues arising from this. Take, for example, the people who experiment on themselves to develop the technology. They are called “first adopters,” and they usually work at home or in casual workspaces while trying out new ways to improve upon our everyday convenience, security and health.

“We look at this and look at these people as pioneers and explorers who take risks for the rest of us,” said Goodman of the adventurers who put their bodies on the line in the name of technological advances.  

After all, he muses, who better to show confidence that their wearable is safe and effective than the person who developed it?  

Among the sticky issues these implants raise are: Who gets to decide if the information you are wearing under your skin is private or public? Who controls it? Who accesses it? For example, can your employer require you to add a chip for your job?    

This weekend, thousands of biotech warriors will be in Austin for BDYHAX 2019, a conference in its fourth year that will lay out the latest the industry has to offer, as well as debate the ethical issues involved with tinkering with technology under the skin.  

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About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News for more than 22 years and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.