Ericsson has developed a solution that bridges the connection between mobile networks and all real world objects through human body.
According to Mwambu Wanendeya, Vice President and Head of Communications for Sub-Saharan Africa at Ericsson, the human body can be used to transfer information to and from a mobile device to a screen or a printer, by using capacitive transmission as discovered by Ericsson:
“This is part of Ericsson’s way of re-thinking mobile broadband and communication. Ericsson has discovered that the human body can be a part of a communication network. This is a technology that holds a lot of possibilities for the future as the human behavior of touching is a smart way of making interaction with the internet and other digital services super simple to access.”
And as part of Ericsson’s networked society, the Connected Me technology is expected to also help Ericsson achieve the goal of connecting more than 50 billion devices globally by 2020:
“The vision of more than 50 billion connected devices will see profound changes in the way people, businesses and society interact. With ubiquitous mobile broadband-enabled internet access, connectivity and networking are becoming completely independent of location. Therefore Broadband ubiquity, cost of connectivity, openness and simplicity intertwined with the new technology –ConnectedMe-will lead to more efficient business models and improved lifestyle for individuals and society in Africa and around the world.”
How our body connects to the network
The human body can be a part of a communication network. By holding a mobile phone in one hand and placing your other hand on a device, you can send and receive information instantly and at high speed. This is a technology that holds a lot of possibilities for the future. The human behavior of touching is a smart way of making interaction with the internet and other digital services super simple to access.
The network is inside you and a very weak signal passes through your body, during the “Connected me” demonstration. Ericsson has developed a solution that, in its first proof-of-concept state, reaches speeds of 6Mbps-10Mbps by using the human body as the wire for transmission.
A number of showcases have been produced, including transmission of streaming music from a Smartphone, transmitting a photo taken by the phone, picking a web link from a device and opening a door by sending the pass code to the handle.
How does it work?
Each smartphone used in the showcases is equipped with a special digital circuit that enables capacitive data transmission. The circuit is connected to a plate, which distributes the signal through the human body. On the other side – at the receiver end – is a similar circuit and plate, which identify the weak signal that has passed through the human body.
The information is sent by modulating the voltage in the transmitter electrode and detecting the variation of potentials in the receiver electrode. A small current then flows through the body. The term used for this phenomenon is capacitive coupling.
The important part is that, by using capacitive coupling, we can send information through organic material like the human body. Combining this with all ordinary behavioral communication available through digital communication gives us a powerful combination for new innovation and interaction that is difficult – or even impossible – to achieve with other technologies.
Using the human body as the conductor in capacitive coupling is not dangerous, as the power levels used are low. Even though the Connected Me technology has come straight out of the laboratory, Ericsson has conducted tests that show that the lab kits easily comply with requirements placed on commercial devices such as smartphones. The specification used has been established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and is endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Connected Me showcase project points out a wide spectrum of possibilities for the future.
Your own body can act like an electrical circuit in instances when you want to, for example, lock your car or hotel room. When you pay for goods in a store, you can do so just with the touch of your hand. And when you decide to print a document from your phone, you can connect to the printer. And this requires less energy than using Bluetooth.
If we think of this in terms of data speed, we can group services like this:
• “Pairing by wearing” – for example, Bluetooth
• Opening doors, boxes
• Paying for goods
• In-body signaling – such as measuring temperature
• Sending messages to and from machines
• Receiving and sending webpage links
• Viewing files from a phone on a screen
• Printing or saving files
• Person 2 Person, by exchanging business cards, playlists, and so on
• Health-care devices that you wear or have inside your body
• Sending music to earphones
• Video transmission
• Augmentation with multimedia.
Capacitive coupling also enables radical redesign of mobile devices like smartphones. Speakers, cameras and other devices can be linked to the “personal access point” through the body channel. This also includes capabilities for future embedded medical devices in the body.
This technology gives us an advantage in creating solutions that are very simple to use. By putting on earphones, we can connect to a human body communication (HBC)-enabled smartphone and play music or enable a hands-free voice conversation.
Ericsson sees this as a part of our forward-looking approach to communication. We have always been involved in developing ideas that make communication easier to use. Along the same lines, Ericsson developed Bluetooth to enable better personal-area communication.
This solution does not replace Bluetooth or near-field communication (NFC); rather Ericsson believes that this adds potential new usage on top of the existing technical solutions to enable communication close to the user.
What will happen in the future depends on all of us. Creative thinking and combining our natural behavior of touching things with communication bring endless possibilities.
Other benefits in brief:
- · Secure communication in personal area; in other words, you are the personal area network. It’s impossible to “skim” the signal without touching the person
- · Cables and connectors are unnecessary
- · Power efficiency – low-energy consumption enabled
- · Inexpensive hardware – mass implementation/integration possible.
Capacitive-coupling technology was demonstrated in a master’s thesis in 1995 by T.G. Zimmerman, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab (Cambridge, MA, Sep). At that time, the speed was low; only about 2.4kbps.
South Korean science university KAIST and Japanese telecom operator NTT DoCoMo have also demonstrated HBC.
Even though HBC has been included in academic research for some time, the speeds reached in its early stages were low. Today, speeds have reached levels where almost any content can be transferred. Ericsson currently runs on speeds of 10Mbps, although speeds of 20Mbps-40Mbps are within reach.
At least two major enablers are bringing HBC technology closer to realization. First, mobile broadband is rapidly growing all around the world. Ericsson is the clear leader in mobile-broadband-network technologies. Second, we see a dramatic general shift in the mobile-phone area. The smartphones developed today are often based on apps with support for sensor input. Capacitive coupling is a natural additional feature in this context.