Insertable Technology for Human Interactions

A hand, held up with the palm facing forwards, like a stop action

Project overview

The human body has emerged as a platform for devices—both for wearable wellbeing devices, and implantable medical devices (IMDs). IMDs include pacemakers, cochlear implants, deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease, dental implants, orthodontics and implantable contraceptive to name only a few. Technological size and cost reductions, along with power and battery improvements, has seen items that were once external have become wearable, and even insertable. In this context, insertables are defined as objects that go in, though and underneath the skin.

Instead of placing a device on the body when needed, and taking it off again when no longer required, it is now possible to augment the body in a semi-permanent way with an insertable device. This augmentation is typically not visible to others and is comparable to those who insert contact lenses rather than wearing glasses. In recent years we have seen the emergence of non-life-threatening health products becoming insertable such as female intrauterine devices (IUD) and sub-dermal contraceptive implants. As individuals become more comfortable with insertables, as well as body modifications, we are beginning to see voluntary use of insertable devices outside of the health sphere.

This project focuses on the hobbyist movement of individuals voluntarily inserting devices such as inserting Radio Frequency Identification microchips (RFID) and Near Field Communication microchips (NFC) to open doors in their home. The arena of insertables has received little academic attention, particularly in human computer interaction (HCI). This project aims to fill the research gap in understanding what people are inserting into themselves voluntarily and why. This knowledge will inform future use and design and position insertables as a device mode of choice for users and a legitimate category for hardware manufactures, HCI researchers and interaction designers alike.

Project team

  • Kayla Heffernan, PhD Candidate, Microsoft Research Centre for SocialNUI, University of Melbourne
  • Frank Vetere
    Frank Vetere, Professor & Director, Microsoft Research Centre for SocialNUI, University of Melbourne
  • Shanton Chang
    Shanton Chang, Associate Professor, Dept of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne‚Ä®

Contact details


Heffernan, K. J., Vetere, F., Britton, L. M., Semaan, B. & Schiphorst, T. (2016) Insertable Digital Devices: Voluntarily Under the Skin In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS 2016 Companion), New York, ACM Press, pp. 85–88 [DOI]

Heffernan, K. J., Vetere, F. & Chang, S. (2016) You Put What, Where?: Hobbyist Use of Insertable Devices In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2016), New York: ACM Press, pp. 1798–1809 [DOI]

Heffernan, K. J., Vetere, F. & Chang, S. (2015) Insertables: I’ve got it under my skin. In ACM Interactions Magazine January + February 2016, vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 52–56, Dec 2015 [Link] [DOI]


ABC Radio National, 2 October 2016

How to really get under someone’s skin

On Future Tense presented by Antony Funnell: It’s the technology that’s deliberately designed to get under your skin. Human micro-chipping is growing in popularity. At the Swedish innovation hub, Epicenter, more than 80 employees using the facility have had a small RFID chip inserted into the bodies. We’ll find out why and whether the psychological barriers to human micro-chipping will inevitably limit the technology’s take-up.

774 ABC Melbourne, 16 Feb 2016

All Day Breakfast with Red Symons

891 ABC Adelaide, 16 Feb 2016

Morning’s with Ali Clark

94.7 The Pulse, 15 Feb 2016

Mitchell’s Front Page with Mitchell Dye

National Nine News (Channel 9/WIN), 27 July 2015

Peter Hitchener & Laura Spurway