Under your skin

Health and fitness tracking devices that are inserted surgically into the body are being developed by a Fitness First member. His trainer, Martin Harvey, reports.

It’s a cold morning and I’m putting Jon Woods through his paces at Fitness First North Sydney. I’m watching his breathing, colour, concentration and the speed of his bench press to determine how many more reps and sets will be optimal for his goals today.

But what if I could “see” inside him, not just watch from the outside? What if I could get information on Jon in real time that would show exactly how hard he’s training and how fatigued he really is? Not observations, but hard data straight from his body. It would be a game changer.

As it happens, Jon is working on this very thing right now. And although cows are his current “clients”, the technology started with humans, and he hopes to eventually get back to implanting the tech in people.

Jon Woods and Tim Cannon run a start-up called Livestock Labs at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney and are known as “Grinders” — people who implant electronic devices into their body, which officially also makes them cyborgs. The hands in the picture, in which trackers have been implanted under the skin, belong to Jon’s colleagues, Justin, Marlo and Jes.

Livestock Labs is currently working with farmers on an implantable that collects detailed data from grazing cows. The sensors can tell farmers if their cows are on heat, in distress or eating well without constant surveillance. It’s not too big a leap to see how inserting accelerometers, heart rate monitors, oxygen saturation sensors and other devices into humans could not only give a trainer like me extraordinary insight into how my client is training, but could ultimately help predict ill health and be a key tool in extending life.

In Sweden, more than 3000 people have had chips inserted in their hands so they can gain cardless electronic access to their homes and gyms. Swedish train conductors will scan your hand for your train “ticket”.

Jon and Tim are the people out there right now drawing us ever closer to a future in which hardware and humans merge.