Meet The Biohacking Pioneers Who Are Redesigning Their Own Bodies – Co.Design (blog)

Posted: June 23, 2017 at 5:44 am

By Meg Miller 3 minute Read

In 2012, 25-year-oldJames Young was in a rail accident in which he lost both his left arm and left leg. An avid video gamer, Young taught himself how to use a controller using only one hand and, occasionally, his teeth. At the 2016BodyHacking Con in Austin, Young debuted a $76,000 carbon-fiber arminspired by the video gameMetal Gear Solid. The high-tech limbhe designed not only gives Young the dexterity todo most of the things he could before his accident, it also charges his phone, displays his social media feeds, and features a mount for a miniature dronecontrolled froma panel onhis forearm.

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]Young, who designed the limb along withprosthetic sculptor Sophie de Oliveira Barata, is 1of 30-odd subjects shot for an ongoing photo series by photographer David Vintiner and creative director Gem Fletcher. The series, Transhuman, documents a rapidly growing international movement of the same name. Spanning the fields ofmedicine, technology, philosophy, art,and academia, transhumanism looks at the ways technology canenhance the physical and psychological capabilities of humans beyond the natural limits of biology. Like Young, some within the movement are developing bionic limbs for differently abled bodies. Others experiment with machines to enhance their sense of sight or touch.

Fletcher and Vintiner discovered the transhumanism community through a meet-up that takes place in the basement of a University College London building. In 2015, the pair released partof the ongoing series, called Futurists, which captured many of the main figures in Londons transhumanism scene.

The latest series of images,Transhuman, expands the scope to subjects throughout Europe and the United States.The movement itself is in intense flux, Fletcher tell Co.Design. Its going through a period of rapid growth, so there are new people in the movement all the time. Its truly a shape-shifting subject matter.

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]Fletcher andVintiners subjects frequently introduce them to others in the movement; Fletcher says that the community, though international, is relatively tight-knit and inclusive. Meet-ups like the one at UCL, or the BodyHacking conference Young attended in Texas, have made it easy for members to meeteach other. Some, like Aisen Caro, who invented a set of headphones that allows humans to experience echo-location, are scholars. (Caro is aPhD candidate in human informatics at Tsukuba University). Others, like the London-based F_T_R design studio, are inventing ways to blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds. F_T_Rs Skinterfaceproject is a full-body suit equipped with actuators that convey a sense of touch to the wearer while she is experiencing a virtual worldwhile wearing a VR headset, for example.

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]Another technology featured in theTranshuman seriesis a fantastical-looking wearable called the Eyesect, designed by the interdisciplinary lab The Constitute. The Eyesect is an otherworldlyheadset that covers the users head completely, and comes equipped with two handheld cameras. The camera feeds what they are seeing onto a screen inside the headset, giving viewers a sense of 360-degree vision. You can move around the camera eyes, so that you have complete freedom to look up, down, forward, and backward all at the same time, says Fletcher. It gives humans the experience that lots of different animals have with this expansive spatial perception.

[Photo: courtesy David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher]Fletcher and Vintiner will continue the series, traveling next to Russia to shoot subjects there, and adding insome film and sound elements to the project as well. The movement is evolving at an exciting rate, says Fletcher, andmore people are gettinginvolved,particularly when it comes to biohacking. The most popular forms of small bodyhacks theyve seen are peopleexperimenting with DIY RFID (radio-frequency identification) implantsthat allow themtounlock doors or turn on lights with the swipe of a hand, for instance. Also popular in this community areimplantable biomagnets,whichallow people to interact with the world in new wayslike by picking up magnetic objects with the touch of a finger.

Its becoming more accessible, Fletcher says of the transhumanism movement. We keep seeing more and more people with chips or small implants. Its almost like the popularity ofpiercings in the 90s.

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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