Patric Lanhed is trying to send one euro worth of Bitcoin from one digital wallet to another. But first, he has to hold a near-field communication (NFC) chip reader against his hand. Underneath his skin is a tiny computer chip, a popular modification among the bodyhacking crowd, which contains the secret key to his Bitcoin wallet.
Once the scan is complete, and custom software written by Lanhed and his collaborator Juanjo Tara—a software developer for Arduino—confirms that the key stored on the chip is legitimate, the pair anxiously watch a screen displaying a Bitcoin wallet, waiting for its balance to go up.
When it does, Lanhed exclaims, "It worked!" and Tara whistles.
With that, Lanhed and Tara have completed what they call a Bitcoin "bio-payment"—a way to send and receive cryptocurrency using data literally stored inside your body, and some custom software built on top of a Bitcoin wallet's developer API.
What Lanhed and Tara have done really isn't all that different from what other implementations of NFC technology already accomplish. Circle, an app for Bitcoin payments, for example, has NFC functionality built-in. Medical bracelets with NFC tech have also been around for a few years. But the advantage with the implant approach, it seems, is that all of this tech is now handily stored in your hand. Just try losing that.
When I reached out to the pair, though, they told me that Bitcoin is just the beginning of their plans. They want to create a general bio-payment terminal system that can be used in stores.
"We are here to try to expand the frontiers of bio-functionality," Tara wrote me in an email, "we started with bitcoins as a tribute of the revolution on the internet, and we believe in have the ownership of our data."
Eventually, Lanhed added, they hope their software will allow people to store more than just their Bitcoin wallet keys on their chips.
"Ultimately you will be able to connect you credit card to your implant and pay with that," Lanhed wrote. "But this terminal is probably a generic product that can be used in other situations as well. It doesn't have to be payments, it can be reading medical journals or travel documents."
The pair are hardly the first to merge the cyberpunk-leaning worlds of biohacking and cryptocurrencies, however.
Martijn Wismeijer, founder of a Dutch Bitcoin ATM company, also implanted NFC chips containing the private keys to cryptocurrency wallets in his hands last year. It's unclear, however, based on the news coverage surrounding the event, if Wismeijer actually used his chips to send or receive Bitcoin payments, but he claims he used it to store his coins in his wallet. Hence, Lanhed and Tara are staking their claim as being the first to make an actual payment.
The crux of the system is a tiny chip developed by DIY biohacking company Dangerous Things that stores 888 bytes of data. It's not much, but it's enough to store bits of data like private keys and other information. Lanhed has used his chip as an ICE tag, which first responders may scan to get vital information about someone in the case of an emergency.
Eventually, Tara wrote, all of their code will be made open source, so that biohackers all over can start loading up their chips with everything from Bitcoin wallets to passport information.