A vending machine company that microchips willing employees so they can ditch their microchipped company ID cards is working on a GPS-enabled chip to track Alzheimer’s patients and others with serious medical conditions.
Three Square Market (River Falls, Wis.) will be seeking 510(k) approval of its GPS tracking chip from the FDA in early 2019, according to company president Patrick McMullan. Three Square Market has outsourced development of the new chip to a microchip company that he declined to name. It also started a new company for its chip business, Three Square Chip.
“The good news is that the folks who are partnering with us to develop this, they have 47 patents for sensors that will read the critical vital statistics,” McMullan said. “We’re dealing with someone who has the intellectual property. That expertise we don’t have.”
Three Square Market’s main business is developing and selling mini self-service kiosks to employers for placement in their break rooms. The company began attracting media attention last year when it announced that it had microchipped 50 of its 80 employees so they could operate a locked door or a vending machine by waving their hand at it rather than with a chip-embedded card. The company has more than doubled in size since then, and it has implanted the original rice-sized microchips in 92 of its 196 employees. That chip does not have GPS-tracking capability.
McMullan said he has seen one beta test of the new chip, which he said is a “personal passion of mine.” McMullan’s wife developed a painful condition called reflex sympathetic dystrophy in her foot due to uncontrolled bleeding following surgery several years ago.
“It was completely preventable, and helping doctors, hospitals in preventing mistakes, providing the information that can help manage someone’s healthcare proactively” is his goal, McMullan said. “If I can develop something that saves lives, prevents medical mistakes, then, by all means, I’m going to do it.”
The GPS tracking chip would be body-heat activated and also have voice recognition and the ability to track vital signs, a capability that could prove useful in a number of conditions, including heart disease, McMullan said. The chip could also help patients with other dementia-related conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Pick’s Disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, the company’s website says.
Three Square Chip’s website says the chip will have capabilities to store a patient’s medical and personal information and provide security and tracking of prescription drug access, in addition to nonmedical uses.
The company’s technology has caused some controversy over personal privacy for patients who would be chipped with the GPS tracker. McMullan said that dementia patients would only have the chip inserted if they could give informed consent. The company agreed with memory loss caregivers that patients would need to give consent to the implant before they reach the stage of dementia when they can no longer do so.
“I’m not interested in tracking people,” McMullan said. I’m interested in providing a useful tool for dementia patients.”
Three Square Market has received many inquiries about the GPS-enabled chip from Central and South America, where it is more common for dementia patients to live with relatives than to enter memory care facilities, McMullan said.
The GPS-enabled chip will be manufactured in the U.S. by a different company than the one that has been developing it, he said. McMullan is concerned about biohackers and others “popping out of the ground wanting to do this.
“Before we got involved, there were people doing this overseas and here in the U.S.,” he said. “There are chip manufacturers out there who have frankly come to us and they say they can do this and they clearly can’t.”