Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Broadband Networking Via Human Skin: Body-Based Data Transmission Coming Soon

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Your own body, arms and fingers, could soon be the key enablers of data exchanges with other people, communication devices and in some cases even with critical components within your own body.

Yes, as i have written here before, your body could soon be the backbone of a broadband personal data network capable of efficiently communicating to your cell phone, MP3 player, digital camera, laptop or printer.

Photo credit: Giuliana Contaldo

NTT, the Japanese communications giant, has recently developed a technology called RedTacton, which it claims can send data over the surface of human skin at speeds of up to 2Mbps -- the equivalent of a fast broadband data connection.

To work, a transmitter is attached to a portable device, such as an MP3 player, which then uses the human electrical skin field to send data to another receiving device. The transmission is achieved by minutely modulating the electrical body field in the same way that a radio station wave is modulated to carry broadcast data.

The developers behind this project are strongly convinced that this new technology will be "highly disruptive". In their views, it could easily and rapidly undermine existing wireless products and services.

But the great news is that according to NTT and other mainstream news sources the first commercial appearance of this new technology, could happen as early as next year.

By utilizing RedTacton-enabled devices, you could transfer digital images from your camera just by touching the PC while the camera is hanging off your neck. Like-wise music from an MP3 player in your pocket could be easily transferred to your wireless headphones without any need for cabling. The new technology would allow information to be easily passed between two persons by handshaking, embracing or even kissing (if both so wished).

In other situations it would suffice to touch a poster, or a screen monitor to grab relevant data about the item being displayed. Since the data transfer between RedTacton-enabled devices does not require any dialing in or log-in, the data transfer would be practically instantaneous.

Interestingly enough, the Japanese telecom company is not the first company to utilize the human body as a vehicle for data transmission. IBM itself pioneered research in this area in 1996 with a system that could transfer small amounts of data at very low speeds, and then last June, Microsoft was granted a patent for "a method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body."

NTT RedTacton, unlike the IBM or Microsoft systems, doesn't need any transmitters to be directly in contact with the human skin -- such electrical contacts can instead be built into clothing, portable devices, bags, watches and other wearable items as long as they are within a 20cm distance from your body.

It is also important to notice that RedTacton doesn't introduce an electric current into the body -- instead, it makes use of the minute electrical field that occurs naturally on the surface of every human.

The system envisioned by NTT, utilizes a conversion method which takes digital data into a stream of low-power digital pulses. These can be easily transmitted and read back through the human electric field.

While it is true that similar personal area networks are already accessible by using radio-based technologies like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, this new wireless technology claims to be able to send data over the human skin surface at transfer speeds of up to 2Mbps, or better than a broadband T1 connection.

Receiving data in such a system is more complicated because the strength of the pulses sent through the electric field are so low. RedTacton solves this issue by utilizing a technique called electric field photonics: "A laser is passed though an electro-optic crystal, which deflects light differently according to the strength of the field across it. These deflections are measured and converted back into electrical signals to retrieve the transmitted data."

According to Tom Zimmerman, inventor of the IBM personal networking system, "body-based networking is more secure than broadcast systems", such as Bluetooth, which have a range of about 10m.

The issue is that "with Bluetooth, it is difficult to rein in the signal and restrict it to the device you are trying to connect to. You usually want to communicate with one particular thing, but in a busy place there could be hundreds of Bluetooth devices within range."

Moreover, body-based networking seems to allow for more natural interchanges of information between humans, as only when you are in true proximity you can make this system work.

There are some specific applications that would appear as being ideal matches for RedTacton-like technologies. For example the need for artificial body implants to communicate with each other as well as to report back to a portable device could have quite some value. In fact, according to other researchers, the most important application for body-based networking may well be for these type of communications within, rather than on the surface of, or outside, the body.

In this view, it is fascinating to consider the opportunity for this type of technology to be used as a sort of secondary nervous system that will seamlessly interconnect "large numbers of tiny implanted components placed beneath the skin to create powerful onboard -- or in-body -- computers".

What do you think?

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Readers' Comments    
2005-08-20 08:47:12


this is crazy! one step closer to the Matrix.

2005-07-25 17:00:56


Why is it I already see a new generation of spammers employing people to come up and shake your hand. Before you know it the next monitor you touch is telling you how the finance officer for nigeria really needs your help?

2005-07-25 14:19:43

Oliver Starr "Stitch"

Man becomes Machine...for every Matrix fan out there that wants to "jack in" and "know Kung Fu", each development like this is one step closer to that reality.

I for one, love the idea of augmenting human capability with technology. To see farther, think faster, jump higher, process and learn more efficiently; we are only just learning what we are truly capable of becoming I applaud the adverturous souls that help us get there sooner!

Great post!

-Oliver Starr

2005-07-24 03:43:59

Abdul Mueid

Sounds interesting & appealing. I guess Microsoft will have to update their music DRM licenses with an option like "Can be synchronised with 5 bodies"

This century is advancing faster than any other.

posted by Robin Good on Thursday, July 21 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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