WASHINGTON – A new Defense Department-funded study is aimed at developing a microchip the size of a grain of rice that would be implanted in soldiers wounded on the battlefield, but the idea raises privacy concerns for at least one major veterans group.
"People are going to say, 'What about my personal rights?' ... Even though you shelve some of your rights as a citizen (in the military), you don't shelve them all," said Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The chip would relay vital statistics about the patient such as lactate, glucose and oxygen levels in the blood. Researchers believe the technology would also be useful in other government programs such as measuring astronaut data, as well as civilian first-responder uses, according to a news release from Clemson University.
Clemson researchers believe the program is five years away from human testing. The program will include testing on a new gel developed by Clemson scientists that aids in preventing the chip from being rejected by the human body.
Davis said there has been an ongoing debate over chip-based electronic information — both implanted and non-implanted — among soldiers, and not all of it is negative.
A wounded soldier could benefit from a battlefield surgeon's or medic's immediate knowledge of information like known allergies, medical histories and family histories. But if the chips contained too much information, it could harm the soldier.
"If you have a chip that's holding a gig (gigabyte), or 10 gigs like an iPod, what kind of information's going to be on there? ... How could this be used against you if you were taken captive?" Davis asks.
He admits it'll be a balancing act. "What we caution ... is let's not rush to field something before it's fully researched.
The $1.6 million contract was awarded to Clemson's Center for Bioelectronics, Biosensors and Biochips; the University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Telesensors Inc., of Knoxville, Tenn.