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 strictly external become wearable, and even insertable.

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 devices inside the body, as well as body modifications, we are beginning to see voluntary use of insertable devices outside of the health sphere.

We define insertables as objects that go in, through, or underneath the skin. Our choice of the word ‘insertable’, over ‘implantable’, for these devices is deliberate. Implantable is used in the medical context to refer to an object fixed inside a person’s body by surgery. Therefore, implantables are more difficult, if not impossible, to remove while insertables can be inserted and removed with minimal invasiveness. An implant is often something done to a person out of need, whereas an insertable implies a strong sense of personal agency and choice. Insertables are differentiated by their voluntary and non-medical nature.

The arena of insertables has received little academic attention, particularly in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). This project focuses on understanding the emerging field of insertable devices, looking as what devices people are putting into their bodies and why, classifying public opinions and propensity to insertables, and understanding how to design and develop for them. It will provide an understanding of the current state of insertables, and compare and contrast their design and development to implantable devices  to identify why insertables are different. 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.


This project was funded by the University of Melbourne’s Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces (SocialNUI).

Project team

  • Kayla Heffernan, PhD Candidate, School of Computing and Information Systems, The University of Melbourne
  • Frank Vetere
    Frank Vetere, Professor, School of Computing and Information Systems, The University of Melbourne
  • Shanton Chang
    Shanton Chang, Professor, School of Computing and Information Systems, The University of Melbourne

Contact details


Heffernan, KJ., Vetere, F. & Chang, S. (2017) Towards insertables: Devices inside the human body First Monday 22(3). [DOI]

Heffernan, KJ., Vetere, F. & Chang, S. (2017) Military Insertables: Lessons from Civilian Use IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 36(1):58–61. [DOI]

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]


Sunrise, Channel 7, March 2018

Are microchips the way of the future?

Computer Science PhD student Kayla Heffernan joins Sunrise.

Sky Business, 7 November 2017

Interview with PhD student Kayla Heffernan on Technology Behind Business

Video not available.

3AW Radio, 3 November 2017

Interview with PhD student Kayla Heffernan

Audio not available.

ABC Drive Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Interview with PhD student Kayla Heffernan

Audio not available.

Café Europe, November 2017

Türen öffnen sich per Zauberhand

Eine australische Forscherin hält Mikrochips für eine der Zukunftstechnologien.

ABC Radio, 1 July 2017

Saturday Breakfast with Hilary Harper

Interview on ABC 774 Melbourne. Audio not available.

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