Subdermal Armor

I've recently been giving this a little thought, as body armor has been a weird sort of hobby of mine for about a decade now. I was thinking, it may not be very difficult to make and implant some body armor, of a ballistic or non-ballistic variety. My hypothetical process is laid out below, and I want to see what people think of possible complications and general feasibility. I'm fairly knowledgeable regarding the armor, and am looking for input regarding the implantation (and am happy to answer any questions regarding the armor portion of this thought exercise). I have no rational reason to do such an implant (I live a boring life out of any sort of harm's way and I plan to keep it that way), I'm just considering it because I think I CAN, I refer to this as the "why the fuck not" rule.

First, I would buy some raw materials aiming for maximizing thinness and flexibility. I would probably stay away from polyethylene-based fibers like Dyneema, as they're generally kinda stiff. I'd look at various Aramid-based blends, like GoldFlex or some such.

I would take the fabric out and shoot a bunch of it to test for the minimum number of layers required to reliably stop both .44 magnum and 5.7x28mm, as I am aiming for thin protection from penetration and not necessarily blunt trauma mitigation to meet actual NIJ testing spec. I am fully aware this means an impact may break bones or cause internal injuries, but the idea is not to be a full substitute for actual body armor but rather a minimum protection that's built-in and always there as a last line of defense in case of muggings or whatever. If actual protection is needed, even a thin vest over the top of this would bump the protection up to well above normal levels, and the implanted armor would provide the needed blunt trauma protection behind hard armor plates for stopping rifle rounds, eliminating the need for a vest or "plate backers" as they are known.

After finding the right layer count, I would cut and shape the panels to conform to the body's natural contours and movements, rather than using commercial armor panels that generally follow large, polygonal construction and aren't the most ergonomic things around. The idea here would be to minimize the need for the panels themselves to flex or shift during movement, to minimize discomfort or risk of tissue damage. This will result in more seams/gaps than traditional armor, but again this is not intended to be a substitute for a vest for someone going in harm's way.

After making the panels, I would seal the edges with some silicone glue or similar flexible, strong adhesive. This would keep the layers together and prevent unwanted fraying from movement (this is a large part of what degrades vests and gives them a shelf-life during regular use).

Next each panel would be dipped or otherwise coated in implant-grade silicone. I think silicone would be the coating of choice for one big reason - the body doesn't bond to the implant as with parylene-C or similar coatings, so this would allow the panels to move freely as needed within the healed "pocket" and prevent tugging or tearing of tissue during activity.

Then I'd have a skilled implant artist shove 'em inside. I'm thinking mainly torso coverage, possibly shoulder and thigh/calf but I'd figure out the details of placement after the first few steps, as the mechanical properties of the armor I settle on would have a lot to do with the practicality of implant locations.


  • have you considered boron carbide? one layer of boron carbide 'fabric' could probably do the stopping ability that you are looking for... i'm actually going to try and make some of my own next week. if it works, i will send you the protocol.

    don't seal with adhesives. one piece of none, otherwise you have degradation.

    as far as the silicone coating concept... a fairly flexible implant will not cause the issues you are concerned about in regards to movement and pulling, especially if you use one piece of armour per small muscle group (which only makes sense, given that they are implants). for your abdominus and obliques alone i would think that you would want at least 14 separate pieces. if you aren't using large restrictive pieces, small piece bonding would be fine and probably more resilient in the long run (catching something at the wrong angle and tearing you subdermals would suck). resins / silicon are fine for small things (magnets) or non impact areas (breasts) but larger / more robust work requires integration.

    from this point, your major concern is 'fouling'. basically clots and the whatnot. even if you did silicon, the amount of material used, plus the requisite thinness would end up in a fouling situation. emboldened by your idea, i am starting a new post about implant coating.

    good luck and keep me updated :)
  • Boron Carbide, to the best of my knowledge, does not make "fabric". It's a hard ceramic compound, and ballistic protection made of it is thick and has the unfortunate side effects of shattering (self-sacrificing plates) as well as projectile spatter and spall. This is why ceramic plates are usually backed by compressed laminates (to catch the spall of plate and projo) as wrapped in ballistic fabric to trap fragments spattering on impact. These are not qualities any sane person would put inside their body, as even a minor impact would turn into serious surgery searching for all the tiny fragment of toxic lead and other materials, and any missed ones will become complications later down the road.

    Sealing the edges of multilayer panels is a tried and true practice that works wonders, so if you have objections to it you will need to explain them thoroughly as the armor industry and my own personal projects in the past have incorporated it to reach the desired effects I described.

    You'll need to explain your fouling concern more, I don't think I get it - are you talking about "chunks" of silicone forming during the coating process?
  • boron carbide fabric article-
    Tao et al. B4C-Nanowires/Carbon-Microfiber Hybrid Structures and Composites from Cotton T-shirts.Advanced Materials, 2010

    sealing the edges of things works great outside the body. having flexible coated multilayer surfaces inside the body is a completely different story. do your personal projects involve large scale multilayer implants / does the armour industry do large scale implants? 
    any small degradation of the edge seal, while not influencing the adhesion, will allow internal systems to build up their own protective coating, which leads to biofouling.

    so: the things that work in the air do not work in the body in the same way.

    bio fouling-  if you don't understand my fouling concern, please refer to google via "implant fouling"
    i'm not talking about chunks of silicone. it's the build up of biological materials on an implant do to a natural systems rejection of an outside material. as i previously mentioned, the reason that people who have major implants take blood thinners / aspirin / continuous meds for the rest of their lives. a magnet or two is one thing, but large scale surface coverage would be quite different...
    silicone is not impact resistant in the way that you are looking for. a thin coating would tear given the shear forces that you are talking about. this would either lead to serious hemorrhaging or, worse yet, clotting along the surface. clots lead to stroke...

  • The Boron/Cotton stuff is interesting, but I can't find a single piece of literature more recent than 3 years. It's likely the research is either dead or secret, and it doesn't appear to be something a layperson can acquire. My approach is something I can have inside my body by Christmas. If you know where to actually get or how to reliably produce the Boron fabric in one's kitchen, please do share and I will include the material in the testing process. One other thing - even if a single layer is enough to stop penetration of some projectiles, I don't think it would have any useful effect on the impact force, so the resultant blunt trauma and internal damage would be far more severe than traditional soft armor, probably very quickly lethal.

    The edge coating does not degrade if you do it right, barring impacts less than an inch from the edge. Also, the entire panel would be coated in silicone, so the edge seal itself is not in contact with any biological tissues and any microscopic tears in the seal would have no effect unless the coating was breached, in which case you have bigger problems and should be getting the panel replaced ASAP.

    I googled "implant fouling" and got a nifty patent and some surface-level articles, it seems to be a problem with catheters and medical devices due to microbial contamination? Has this been an issue for anyone with cosmetic silicone subdermals like horns/beads/whathaveyou? It does appear to be a cause for concern, unless there's an easy way around it that the bodymod industry has been using that I'm not aware of.

    Also, given your last statement about the impact-resistance of silicone, I think maybe you are under the impression the armor is designed to stop repeated hits? It's not, each panel should be considered "single use only", as an impact will breach all coatings and protective means and penetrate several layers of fabric (this is by design), and you'll have a lovely hunk of lead/copper/tungsten embedded in your body, not to mention a .22-.50" diameter hole in your skin that's now spewing blood. If it gets hit, the entire panel is removed and the area allowed to heal prior to installation of a new one. Silicone is plenty impact-resistant enough for everyday activity, but there is no bioproofing method in the world that is literally bulletproof for this application.
  • Have you addressed the issue of cutting off capillaries/nerves/heat dispersal to the dermis with a large surface area implant like this? If not, the issue is moot imo. Issues have been run into on this score even with implants a fw square inchs in surface area.
  • That's one of those things I didn't think of because I'm still quite new to the implant thing. Sounds like this may be a non-starter, then. Any ideas what the maximum practical surface area of a subdermal implant is? Maybe a bunch of smaller panels, like a sort of soft fishscale deal? The idea could also turn into small amounts of non-ballistic armor, like joint protection - like an implanted "better kneecap".
  • edited August 2013
    You might consider some sort of honeycomb framework with holes throughout to allow tissues to grow around it. This would alleviate some of the issues brought up by Saal, but it would bring up a whole new set of issues along with it.

    The implant would need to be made of a strong material to provide any sort of ballistic protection, since it's full of holes.

    Also, it would only work if we assume that the surrounding tissue would grow through all of those tiny holes. I don't know if any research has been done on this, but if not you would be wise to make a small trial implant to see how well it's tolerated by the body before going full scale.

    Lamination would be virtually impossible with this type of an implant due to the small structures involved.

    Unless the material chosen is bioproof as well as strong, it would need to be coated in such a way that it does not block the holes yet completely isolates the substrate from the living tissue.

    be completed.Given all this, I doubt that you could produce a successful implant by Christmas. It could take years for a project like this to
  • iirc there are certain dynema products which are bioproof. the fibers themselves shouldn't be all too different from those used for building balistic protection.

    i want to throw in that , even if such armoring can stop a bullet, it won't provide good protection against bullets with more energy as the impact itself would cause severe internal injuries, even with the bullet not penetrating.
  • i like you reinforcement idea. like that girl who got surgery on her healthy knee because the surgery from the damaged knee improved it.
    if not ballistic reinforcement was your goal, meshes would be a good idea (see below for issues with that)
    or one could try a series of strands of material that could be staggered to increase impact and torque resistance.

    i am working on a do it at home protocol for the boron fabric this week. i kinda fried a vacum oven at work trying this the first time, so i'm looking for a less industrial method to do this. if i can get it to work properly (and not blow up my stove) this will be the first place i post it.

    dynema is bio proof but it is also polyethylene. a lot of research has been coming out that having that stuff in you body causes non positive hormonal and genetic actions that have long term detrimental effects.

    @mkabala: how small are the holes you are thinking? we've found that as hole sizes decrease in implants, the chance of build up of biofouling in the negative space increases, even with bioproof materials. the hole basically becomes a pocket
  • Well I was initially aiming for ballistic protection as that's been my area of focus, but it seems technical limitations with implants will prevent that from working - ballistic armor doesn't jive with gaps, especially in soft armor. The whole mechanism of action is in the "net effect" of the woven fabric plies absorbing the impact of the projectile and ultimately trapping it when it runs out of energy. Having large gaps (large in this case meaning visible to the naked eye) will dramatically reduce the performance of the material to the point of uselessness (at least within our thickness constraints), plus you now have loads of those gaps where the protection is zero. This works great for maille (slash/stab protection only!) but bullets, even crappy or weak ones, are a whole new ballgame.

    @ThomasEgi: If constructed with layers of ballistic fabric, the blunt protection would be similar to soft armor vests in use throughout the industry (I would be shaving some trauma protection to save on thickness, but prior tests have shown this to not be much of a game-changer, I expect the materials I'd be using would be similar). That's not to say it won't still injure you, but it certainly beats a penetrating injury clean through your chest cavity.

    @glims: I am very interested in the boron fabric, please keep us in the loop!

    @both of you: Dyneema may be bioproof, but layering something inside the body without sealing it is sure to lead to a lot of interesting complications like that biofouling for one. In order for this to have any chance as ballistic protection it would have to be a single, sealed and bioproofed panel with all the layers inside kept completely isolated from your body's tissues. Basically exactly the same construction as soft armor panels used in vests, only smaller and shaped to fit your anatomy (and then bioproofed and shoved under your skin).

    I'm now thinking more along the lines of small strips of armor, like a sort of ballistic banded plate armor, with the strips laid in line with muscle groups and ribs. What are the potential complications with several narrow strip-shaped implants laid close together? Does this help alleviate issues with nerves/capillaries?

    An alternate project might be, rather than implanting the armor itself, using transdermal mounting points for anatomically-shaped panels that are then attached externally to the implants via snaps, bolts, whatever works. An impact would likely cause rejection of some of the implants, but again this beats taking a round. This would also allow for armor upgrades as tech improves, though it is a relatively slow-moving field.
  • @glims, the holes would need to be large enough to prevent the effect you describe yet small enough to prevent degradation of the material's ballistic strength. I have not done any tests or feasibility studies and only offer this as a possible area of research.
  • @mkabala: Unless the gaps can be pinpricks, it's not feasible with ballistic armor. Gaps are not conducive to stopping bullets. You lose coverage, and any direct line between two gaps loses ballistic integrity as the weave/layering of the fibers is all fucked up. The fibers should run edge-to-edge in order for it to work, so as you increase gaps you rapidly lose protection. And I don't mean like it gets weaker in terms of what it can stop, it goes from full to zero protection almost instantly.
  • even banded armour in the traditional sense, would cause problems. the pieces would reduce mobility and blood flow, as well as cause some 'pinching'
    if visible to the naked eye gaps are an issue, i think you may need to rework your plan. people are soft. this is why you want armour.  unfortunately, we don't function well not being soft.

    mounting points would be visually cool, but unless they were bone mounted, useless against any significant forces.
  • @glims: They wouldn't be ideal certainly, but they'd work. They don't have to withstand an impact, just hold the weight of the panel during regular activity like running and jumping. The panels do not need to be held rigidly in place during a hit, and in fact generally perform less if done so. In such a case, if you got hit, it would wreak hell on at least some of the implanted mounting points, but the panel itself would perform as advertised and you'd live.

    That being said, I would personally love some bone-mounted armor grafts, if they're attached to bone you could use hard plates for rifle protection even, since the mounting points won't move with respect to each other. But somehow I think I'd have a really hard time convincing any surgeon to help with such an endeavor...
  • @zombiegristle: Not in Malaysia you wouldn't; @DirectorX can tell you all about it ;)

    If the plates are going to be external, I see no point in mounting them transdermally rather than simply wearing them. and with a large-scale transdermal array, your chances of infection and rejection are near 100% I'd imagine. Perhaps if bone-mounts become an option this would be worth consideration, but I'd HIGHLY recommend staying away from transdermals otherwise.
  • @Saal: Makes sense, I was trying to justify it in my head for any reason other than just looks. One could get slightly better ergos from custom-formed panels attached close to the body, but the tradeoff in implant hassle and cost makes it not worth it I think.

    And now for something purely for fun: Transdermal magnets, and "breakaway" armor the has embedded magnets to just snap into place, and when struck it just curls around the bullet and falls off!

    Seems when it comes to armor, external wear really is the way to go. I'll refocus my energies on implanted electronics again. :)
  • Why transdermal magnets? You could fit a fairly large neodym in several places subdermally without cutting off tissue life support, I imagine. I like that idea :)

    I'd use regular old steel for the armor hookups though. Too strong a bond and you could risk crushing the dermis or maybe even ripping out the implants/not being able to remove the plates at all.
  • I don't think the armor would curl around the bullet though. Even if the bullet does happen to be steel jacketed the bond between the armor hookups and implanta would likely be far stronger than the attraction between bullet+armor.
  • It was my understanding that leaving anything "clipped" to a subdermal magnetic implant for prolonged period (like 20min+) could cause tissue damage and rejection. At least, I think that's what Steve said when he was cutting me open. I was a little faint...
  • Oh, and I'm still talking about soft armor, not hard plates. Soft armor would deform around the bullet to an extent, potentially pulling it away from the magnets. If not, well then you still have armor in place, so it's a win/win I suppose.
  • That sounds true, although perhaps dropping down to samarium cobalt as opposed to neodym could relieve some of the issue by reducing the strength of the bond.
  • I have no interest in implantable armor as being described myself, BUT I do think that a biologically active implant might be the ticket if one was going to try this. For example, titanium mesh with something like osteoprogenitor types of cells are used to grow replacement bones. There are other methods as well. Point being, titanium is biocompatible. Although a simple mesh isn't strong enough to stop a bullet, could the mesh/bone complex be made to provide anywhere near the level of protection that current plates provide? The nice part would be that you wouldn't have to worry about minimizing blood flow to the periphery. What else could be woven into the structure to increase strength further?
  • The problem with Titanium for personal armor is that while it is lighter than steel for a given protection level, it is much thicker. The Russians have used Titanium plates in their body armor, and despite being almost twice as thick as common steel plates, they are significantly less effective at stopping rounds. They also use inconsistent alloys and tempers, but that's a separate issue.

    You could easily make Titanium ballistic plates like you describe, but in terms of efficacy they would be inferior to Kevlar or steel.

    Using Titanium and bone for armor would be excellent for non-ballistic protection though, thin plates of Titanium are hard enough to withstand all sorts of abuse and flexible enough not to shatter like Tungsten Carbide would.
  • I'm thinking that if grinding is to expand into armor, perhaps we don't need to start off trying to be bulletproof. This titanium idea is something I'd be interested in if feasible :)
  • I'm inclined to agree after this discussion, too many obstacles to ballistic armor. Making really kickass impact protection should be comparatively easy, though.

    A heavy-gauge mesh (maybe 20g or thicker) of grade 5 Titanium (Ti-6Al-4V) could be shaped around soft tissue and should be strong enough on its own (once the site has healed and connective formed through the mesh) to provide impressive protection from routine injuries like falling onto pavement or hitting your elbow on the stove (comes to mind as I just did that making breakfast). Expand on that and you could potentially have built-in motocross or riot armor.
  • Now for the cold water...this is a BIG implant. Even one plate would likely involve major surgery.

    @Cassox, as our surgery guy, have anything to comment? I'm thinking this is a medical tourism thing.
  • hm. i remember some nice military grade textiles made from some ceramic-compound-whatever-material. the nice part about it was it behaved pretty much like regular fabric, but it resisted highspeed changes of it's form. like non newtonian liquids it becomes very hard and nonflexible when hit by fast things as the ceramic particles lock each other up.
    a thicker mesh made from that stuff, topped by several layers of fine-meshed dynema may be an idea. given you are ok with cutting away big patches of skin and letting them grow back together again.

    it's probably a lot easier, and cheaper to just wear a shirt made of simmilar stuff. unless of course you enjoy fighting mostly naked. of course there are other non-military-grade viscoelastic materials. some are used to build protective snowboard gear. it may not stop a bullet. but preventing a broken bone would be fine,too
  • Hmm Thomas you seem to have not just immediately shot this down like I was sure you would have. Though yeah your "wear a T-shirt" pretty much showed how much the idea overall is like the whole NASA vs Russia pencil vs pen thing.(though I know the actual story with that, just using it as a well known example).

    Anyways I think the best use for this sort of idea of implanting extremely strong 'cloth' would be reinforcing bone itself, but this would most likely be outside grinder level.

  • Yeah, the premise behind the initial idea was formed armor panels to improve mobility by making them conform to the body's anatomy and minimize the inherent standoff in external solutions. Paper/Internet does not do an adequate job of conveying just how much of an impact on movement armor has, but once you actually wear some and try to do even routine stuff...You realize how much room there is for improvement.

    Plus then we'd have a real-world example of the "dermal armor plating" that's so popular in cyberpunk fiction. I'm looking at YOU, Mr. Jensen.
  • @John i'm working on the extremely strong cloth thing as fast as i can. right now i'm testing various methods of soaking / drying the cloth to impregnate it. it's not what @zombiegristle is looking for but it's a step... the biggest irritation is that the methods sections of so many papers are always left so vague... they do it on purpose so that other people can't run with their work. i hate that :(
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