Evan Bryer

University of South Carolina freshman Evan Bryer injected a set of microchips into his hands, one of which is programmed with his student ID card and is capable of opening certain doors around campus. Jessica Holdman/Staff

COLUMBIA — Evan Bryer holds his hand over the card scanner of a student apartment building, and after several seconds, the scanner's light turns from red to green.

The easy entry is possible with a microchip the University of South Carolina freshman implanted into his hand, between his index finger and thumb, using a self-injection kit.

Bryer, a computer science major, came across the technology online and was intrigued to see people were using microchips to unlock their phones, computers and homes and even starting their cars. He imagines one day being able to press his hand against a card reader in the grocery store checkout or at a vending machine to pay for items.

“If the technology gets better I’d probably get one,” he said.

“I also think the future of something like this is pretty interesting,” Bryer said, and he wanted to be among the early adopters.

"Biohacking is the next phase of human evolution. Human augmentation with microchip implants is just the first step, but an important one," reads the website for Seattle-based Dangerous Things, the company Bryer purchased the microchips from.

While the technology may not be widely used in people, it has gained some traction.

At Three Square Market, a Wisconsin-based technology company, 80 employees last August opted to implant microchips for entering the office building and purchasing items in the cafeteria. About 4,000 Swedes had adopted the technology as of October 2018 and companies offering the implants were finding it difficult to meet demand, according to NPR.

Bryer didn’t tell anyone his plan before injecting the microchips — not his roommates and not even his parents back in Macomb, Mich., north of Detroit.

“I don’t think they were surprised,” Bryer said of his parents, who are used to his all-in nature when it comes to something he’s curious about. “They were more surprised it could be done than by the fact that I did it. They were more weirded out and confused by why I would want to do it.”

microchip

A small microchip is visible just under the skin of Evan Bryer's left hand. The USC freshman self-injected a set of microchips using a kit he purchased online. Jessica Holdman/Staff

Bryer researched the chips and injection methods first, wanting to make sure it was safe and not a scam technology that would be a waste of money.

He said the online forums for the microchips are fairly popular but said choosing to implant them is still “definitely far from the norm.”

He spent $60 for the chip loaded with his contact information and student identification data that allows him to enter certain buildings on campus and $40 for a chip loaded with a password manager for his electronic devices and online accounts. He spent another $30 for a pair of LED light chips that glow when they pass over a scanner to help him more easily find the correct spot to place is hand.

In all, it cost less than $150 and got them within three days after ordering.

Bryer has shown the implanted chips to a few of his professors. One in particular, Jeremy Lewis, an instructor in the College of Engineering and Computing, took an interest in how the chips work, Bryer said. He explains that the chips are "passively powered." A coil within the chip is able to transfer power to itself from the batteries inside the scanners it hovers over.

When Bryer had everything he needed and was ready to implant the microchips, he took an hour to prep, sterilizing everything with alcohol and laying out a sterile drape. He then locked the door to his bedroom and bent over his school desk to get started.

The chips come already loaded in sterile syringes, Bryer said. The thinnest needle was about 1.5 millimeters, he said, and the largest was about 3 millimeters and was a bit more difficult to get under the skin. 

Bryer kept bandages on for about two days. He said it took about a week before he was fully healed, and within a month, people weren't able to tell at all.

For some who choose to adopt the technology, it's about the novelty of it. For others, it's convenience.

Bryer said he was simply fascinated with the idea of having a technology that was a part of himself which one day might be used for so many different tasks.

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Jessica Holdman is a business reporter for The Post & Courier covering Columbia. Prior to moving to South Carolina, she reported on business in North Dakota for The Bismarck Tribune and has previously written for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.