Borrowing from an idea that allows pet owners to track their dogs and cats, a U.S. company launched Thursday in Mexico the sale of microchips that can be implanted under a person's skin and used to confirm everything from health history to identity.
The microchips, which went on sale last year in the United States, could tap into a growing industry surrounding Mexico's crime concerns. Kidnappings, robberies and fraud are common here, and Mexicans are constantly looking for ways to stay ahead of criminals.
The microchip, the size of a grain of rice, is implanted in the arm or hip and can contain information on everything from a person's blood type to their name. Hospital officials and security guards can use a scanning device to read the chip's information.
In a two-hour presentation, Palm Beach, Florida-based Applied Digital Solutions Inc. introduced reporters to the VeriChip and used a syringe-like device and local anesthetic to implant a sample in the right arm of employee Carlos Altamirano.
"It doesn't hurt at all," he said. "The whole process is just painless."
Another chip user, Luis Valdez, who is diabetic, said the chip is "as innovative to me as the cell phone."
Antonio Aceves, the director of the Mexican company charged with distributing the chip here, said that in the first year of sales, the company hoped to implant chips in 10,000 people and ensure that at least 70 percent of all hospitals had the technology to read the devices.
One chip costs $150 and has a $50 annual fee. The scanning device and related software is $1200. Users can update and manage their chips' information by calling a 24-hour customer service line.
Similar technology has been used on dogs and cats as a way to identify the pets if they are lost or stolen.
The VeriChip can track subjects who are within 5 miles, but officials want to develop a new chip that can use satellite technology to track people who are farther away and may have been kidnapped.
While the idea of using the chip to track people has raised privacy concerns in the United States, the idea has been popular with Mexicans, who have been contacting Aceves and asking when the new global positioning chip will be available. The company hopes to have the new anti-kidnapping chip developed by 2003.