Where phone meets body

The biometric tech of the future is closer than you think

Where phone meets body

Apple's decision to include a fingerprint scanner in the new iPhone 5S may or may not have convinced you to buy one, but it marks another step forward in biometrics and the fusion of phone and user.

It's not beyond the realms of possibility that the next decade could see advances that feel like they're straight out of the pages of a sci-fi novel.

Imagine taking a hands-free call without a headset, for example. Or feeling your temple buzz when you enter an open Wi-Fi zone. Or swallowing a pill that can report your body temperature and health back to a dedicated phone app.

This sort of tech is not a distant pipe dream: it's being developed right now, and could be in mainstream use more quickly than you might think.

Pills and implants

It's going to take some time before we're happy to have electronic chips embedded into our wrists or jaws, and much of the sensory tech currently in development is in a more natural form.

The CorTemp pill from HQInc is powered by a tiny built-in battery and can measure your temperature, heart rate and other data. The pill reports back wirelessly to another device (such as your phone). It can be used to help spot health problems and check on the effectiveness of medicine in the same way that Windows reports back on the health of your hard drive.

The CorTemp pill can monitor your health internally

HQInc's Lee Carbonelli explains: "Sensor innovations can be used as diagnostic tools, as well as in wellness and prevention, and apps will play a prominent role in data recording and for transmission of data to medical professionals."

You may balk at the idea of popping a super-smart pill that reports back to your doctor, but as Google's Eric Schmidt said in 2012: "If it makes the difference between health and death, you're going to want this thing."

Grindhouse Wetware is another outfit that devotes itself to biohacking in a variety of forms. One of the projects it's working on is Circadia, a small implantable circuit board that measures your vital statistics and reports back wirelessly.

Via its integrated LED lights you can glance at your arm to check for notifications from your Android phone. "Circadia has a Bluetooth module that takes your biological data and uploads it to your phone," Grindhouse's Tim Cannon told us. "You can also make the device sing 'peanut butter jelly time' to your phone, and the LED on the device blinks rapidly as it does that!"

Grindhouse's Circadia integrates LED lights and sensors

The usefulness and application of the collected data is just as just as important as the devices themselves.

"I think in the next 10-20 years we will be using the data we are collecting now to make more intelligent choices about our lives," says Tim, "and we'll be replacing pieces of our bio that are unnecessary or undesirable (arms, hearts, etcetera). We will hopefully be having a conversation about life and life extension and what the ramifications are culturally."

Built-in audio

Devices like Google Glass have brought notifications, search results and driving directions closer to our eyeballs than ever before, but through the power of bone conduction you can have calls or notifications beamed straight into your head, no Bluetooth headset required.

The technology has already been trialed in Germany, where commuters resting their heads against a train window were treated to targeted advertising. Passengers were "surprised" and "enjoyed this new form of advertising", if you take the word of the agency who carried out the experiment. Your mileage may vary.

In recent weeks we've also seen a team from Disney Research pass audio messages through the touch of a finger.