April 2002o Vol.13 Issue 4
Page(s) 7-11 in print issue

Technology News & Notes

Never Leave Home Without It

For years, scientists have experimented with microchip implants. One of the main purposes is for identification. The theory behind RFID (radio frequency identification) probably isn't news; RFID devices, such as ExxonMobil's Speedpass and various others, are in use across the country.

In case you haven't heard, the idea is fairly simple. The miniaturization of microprocessors has made it relatively simple to create tiny chips that store identification information. Certain authorized devices can extract this information wirelessly just by passing within a short distance of the chips.

Of course, having a microchip in a plastic dongle on your key chain is a little different from having one injected beneath your skin, but even this aspect of RFID isn't new. Professor Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in the U.K. tested such a system on himself in 1998 and found that the chips he had implanted did their jobs (turning on lights, prompting his PC to greet him verbally, chilling his wine, and others) well and without negative side effects.

Thanks to ongoing research, implantable RFID chips are smaller than ever. Warwick's chip was about the size of a pearl; a new device called VeriChip is even smaller. Applied Digital Solutions ( says its VeriChip is approximately the size of the point on a ballpoint pen (with its antenna, the entire package measures just 12mm [millimeters] long) and can be implanted by syringe injection. An external handheld scanner with the proper frequency sends a signal to the chip, which "wakes up" and transmits the necessary data.