Engineers send wireless data across the human body

Signal of change / Engineers send wireless data across the human body

By Anna Simpson / 24 Oct 2016

A team at the University of Washington has demonstrated the ability to use sensors on commodity devices such as smartphones and laptops to generate wireless data transmissions that are confined to the human body.

Currently, smart devices use radio (including Bluetooth and WiFi) to communicate. These waves are inherently open to tapping. The researchers have instead designed and tested a system to send information in the form of low-frequency, electromagnetic (EM) signals. These signals degrade in the air, but travel well on the human body. Transmitting and receiving devices (similar to fingerprint sensors and touchpads) must be in contact with the body for the communication to be successful.

So what?

This innovation offers a form of physical security in transmitting data that commodity devices can’t yet offer.

The researchers claim the links would be immune to eavesdropping or tapping… unless, perhaps, the person was physically ‘tapped’ on the shoulder?

They suggest applications such as sending data from a smartphone to open a locked door by tapping the doorknob (the smartphone and sensor-enabled doorknob would both need to be in contact with the body).

Will the system work across chains of people? Could an official handshake transmit a digital signature? Could tongue-tied lovers send messages to each other’s smart chips?

Security could be a significant obstacle to sustainable change. These solutions, while quirky, could one day seem essential.


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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