It’s a big, diverse, weird world out there when it comes to people experimenting on their own bodies. There are subcultures devoted to whole body tattoos and others seemingly dedicated to placing a fantastic array of metal pieces in or through just about every appendage imaginable (and probably a few that I haven’t imagined).
It looks like the latest development is to implant functional “things” inside the body. There’s even a name for it: recreational cybernetics. The article highlights a man who implanted a magnet into a finger. He stated that it gives him a new sense, for example, being able to detect his mobile phone ringing. I bet it’s also handy for picking up small screws and nails when doing home maintenance.
“Grinders, as they call themselves, represent a unique niche of the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture. These are people who experiment on their own bodies, creating their own implants—often for recreation, but also with a true spirit of academic experimentation. The message is clear: Implants are the future, and some people aren’t waiting around for FDA or the medical device industry.”
A few years ago, there was a trend where people had RFID tags embedded under their skin. The tag could be used to “open” an electronic lock using proximity. There were the predictable howls from conspiracy theorists and fundamentalists and the fad seemed to die out. And who can forget the “cyborgs” at various universities who pioneered wearable computers? One cyborg had metal bolts implanted into his skull so he could mount his head-worn display most securely.
I guess the advantages to self-modification are no need for biocompatibility testing, informed consent, IRB approval, HIPAA compliance, regulatory compliance, etc. And who knows? Perhaps there is a new medical device company waiting to be born out of these early experiments.
On a related note, there’s a developing niche in assistive devices for the disabled. Looks like The Six Million Dollar Man isn’t just a character in a cheesy ’70s TV action show anymore.
“Bionic prostheses, which use electronics to restore biological functions that have been lost or compromised, are among the most exciting medical devices. Thanks to bionics, babies born deaf can hear, people who have lost their sight can see, people living with paralysis can walk, lower-limb amputees can run, and upper-limb amputees can type on a keyboard. Bionic medical devices make occurrences once considered miracles happen every day.”
While not truly bionic (not electrically powered), Seattle’s own Cadence Biomedical and its Kickstart Walking System is an example of innovative technology benefiting patients who may have been dreading being confined to a wheelchair.
The article makes the point that it’s tough to succeed as a business in this segment. Patient populations are relatively small. VC investment is difficult to obtain (not that it’s easy anywhere these days…). Finally, obtaining reasonable reimbursement can be challenging and a long-term process.
One company found a way around the challenges through market diversification. They are marketing their bionic walking suit for lower limb paraplegics to the military as an exoskeleton to give infantry soldiers extra-human abilities. Another example of science fiction blurring into reality!
Takeaways: Pay attention to early trends where technology is used in innovative, perhaps unsettling ways. It could be the start of a new industry! Also, don’t be reluctant to find alternative uses, markets, or niches for your technology. The Prime Directive is for your startup to survive long enough to become a going concern.