Care to eat chips — not the potato ones in colourful packaging and different flavours but the digital ones, info rich variety! For starters, swallow this: If you happen to be among the select VIP members of the Baja Beach Club, one of Barcelona’s hottest night spots, you’ll not only be in the company of some very exclusive people, but also among the few with an implantable microchip. The chip was club owner Conrad Chase’s idea of offering a unique identity to the club’s VIP patrons.

Slightly larger than a grain of rice, the chip is used to identify people when they enter and pay for drinks. It is injected by a nurse under a local anesthetic. It is an RFID tag — radio frequency identification. RFID tags are miniscule microchips which listen for a radio query and respond by transmitting their unique ID code. Most RFID tags have no batteries: They use the power from the initial radio signal to transmit their response.

At the Baja Club if a special tag-reader is waved near the arm, a radio signal prompts the chip to transmit an identification number which is used to access information about the wearer from a database. Otherwise the chip is dormant. But its applications are wider.

The Baja club members are not the only users of such geeky stuff. Very soon most people might have some kind of a chip implanted in them, as a means to identify, deliver medicines, monitor health, give access to secure areas and also functions as digital door locks.

Just recently Kodak filed a patent for edible RFID chips. They’re designed for monitoring a patient’s gastric tract. The chips are covered in a harmless gelatin, which eventually dissolves. These RFID chips embed deep in the body and can be read by a scanner. After swallowing a tag a patient need only sit next to a radio source and receiver.

Kodak says that similar radio tags could also be embedded in an artificial knee or hip joint in such a way that they disintegrate as the joint does, warning of the need for surgery. Attaching tags to ordinary pills could also help nurses confirm that a patient has really taken their medicine as ordered.

VeriChip, another American company provides chips to hospitals to manage patients. It also provided chips to the Baja Club. An Israeli company Given Imaging has developed PillCam, a tiny two-sided camera the size of a large pill which patients swallow. It has been used for gastro-intestinal endoscopy tests to diagnose disorders of the oesophagus and the small intestine.

It takes pictures and sends them wirelessly to a recorder worn on the patient’s waist. The images are downloaded to a computer for diagnosis. The $450 capsule passes through the bowel naturally and is flushed down the toilet.

All this is part of what experts like to call “intra-body wireless communications”. In this more than one chip could be embedded in humans and these chips relay information to each other or to a receiver without interference, just as a radio can be tuned to different stations. So in diabetics, for example, an implanted glucose-level reader in one part of the body can communicate with an implanted insulin-pump elsewhere.

With such new innovations it will be more common in future to have some wireless devices which are ingested, implanted or simply attached to the body and linked to a network. It is still early days, but a wireless future with edible chips is clearly looming large on the horizon.

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