Head of company with microchipped employees has big plans

The head of a Wisconsin-based company that implanted computer chips in its employees has big plans.

“Yes, it’s an implant in your hand, and that scares a lot of you, but we put sensors in cars, we put sensors everywhere,” said Patrick McMullan, president of River Falls-based Three Square Market. “Don’t be so afraid to put a sensor in you to help you life a better life.”

He spoke yesterday at a luncheon held by the Wisconsin Technology Council in Madison. Tom Still, president of the Tech Council, noted “a lot of scientists, a lot of observers took a look at this over time and said, ‘Well, it was only a matter of time’ — they just didn’t know it was going to be in River Falls.”

Three Square Market, which uses chip technology for various corporate functions, captured the national media’s attention last year when it was announced that its employees would have the option to get tiny microchips implanted under the skin. These allow them to use their own hand like an ID badge, providing a higher level of security.

About 70 employees have decided to have the chips implanted so far, and others benefit from the quick scanning and security by wearing wristbands containing these chips. About 95 percent of employees are chipped or sport the wristband, McMullan says.

McMullan acknowledges the ‘Big Brother’ concerns, the worries about privacy, and the general fears about previously untested waters. But he says the many applications of embedded chips could change the world for the better, and that’s worth exploring.

Three Square Market is working with three “very prominent research medical organizations” on a chip that could read vital signs and provide warning days in advance of medical issues, he says.

“If you’re a heart patient, we want to know pretty dang quick that your blood pressure is up, your heart rate is up, your O2 rate is up, because that is a pure sign that an imminent heart attack is on the way,” he said. “Unless you want to go to the doctor about every other day… heart attacks come on in a matter of hours, and this would stop that — among many, many other things.”

McMullan says development of medical applications like these will take time, but other applications for these chips in security and ‘smart cities’ could be just over the horizon. And he’s not restricting his view to chips embedded in people.

“How about tracking your snow plow and knowing when your street is going to get plowed?” he said. “Guess who filed a trademark on that? Us.”

He says River Falls has been “a great partner,” working with the company to put RFID chips — similar to the ones implanted in its employees’ hands — on top of city snow plows.

“You will be able to use an application, open it up and know exactly where the snow plow is that plows your street,” McMullan said. “If you forgot to bring your trash out, guess what. You will be able to open an app and see, did they even come yet to your street, even to your house.”

McMullan views Three Square Market is working toward “real solutions” outside of internal security and convenience.

“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t do this so I could open the door to my building and log in,” he said. “I did it because I know there was other things that we can do.”

So far, he says, the company’s innovation has come from being willing to do what no one else has done before.

“We did all of this in 100 days,” he said. “Imagine what we can do over the next couple years, and where we can go.”

–By Alex Moe