Digital communication through human touch
A guest post by Clara Smith.
New technology reveals the possibility
Generation X grew up dreaming about the day when they would be able to use a computer. Children these days learn how to unlock smartphones and play games on them even before they can talk or walk.
From old bulky computers to sleek devices almost the size of notebooks, technology has undoubtedly come a long way since the 1970s. And it has only gotten stronger with time. The question is – to what extent can technology evolve to make our lives better, faster and easier?
Engineers from Pursue University in Indiana, USA, have brought forth a new technology which can transmit digital information through human touch. That means you may not need a smartphone or any device as such anymore for digital communication. Instead, all you need is your fingertip. Let’s learn a bit more about this technology, its impact and how it works.
“Internet within the body” from human touch
These engineers designed a prototype to show how our body can act as a link between a device such as a smartphone and a scanner or reader. They proved it is possible our bodies are capable of transmitting information by touching a surface.
Who came up with the technology?
- Shreyas Sen, an associate professor of computer and electrical engineering at Purdue University, developed ways to use the human body for transmitting digital information.
- David Yang, a graduate student at the same university, demonstrated how to direct human touch could direct information transfer.
- Shovan Maity, a Purdue alum, took the lead in the study as a PhD student in Sen’s laboratory.
The prototype they designed couldn’t transfer money yet. But, it is the first technology which could transmit information through human touch.
Let’s consider a watch to be a prototype. While wearing this watch, you can send online information like a password or a photo to your laptop just by touching the surface of the laptop. This is exactly what the researchers demonstrated in their new study.
Where is the study published?
The study is published in a journal named “Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction” by the Association for Computing Machinery. You may also find the researchers’ findings at the ACM CHI or Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction conference held in May.
How does this technology work?
Here’s how the technology works:
- The technology is built on the basis of the “internet within the body”. Smart wearables such as smartwatches, pacemakers, insulin pumps, etc., can use this ‘internet’ through human touch to send information to other devices.
- Sreyash Sen used the science of electro quasistatic human body communication to enhance the selectivity and specificity of human touch.
- Sen shows the power of a human body communication transmitter through the watch on his wrist.
- The device takes and sends data throughout his body, thereby making his body a strong communication channel and amplifying the power of human touch.
- He touches the device or the location where he wants to send information, and that’s it! This is how he makes communication through touch highly specific.
- Such as making payments or getting access to a smart doorknob, this technology makes everything possible by sending digital signals throughout your body, eliminating the need for a wire or even a Bluetooth connection.
What is the significance of this technology?
2020 apparently broke all records in terms of data breaches and cyber attacks on companies, individuals, and governments. Cybercrimes are on the rise since the pandemic struck and more than half of the population resorted to digitisation.
Sen’s technology, however, shows potential in protecting your data. Here’s how:
- These days when we communicate digitally via a device and internet or Bluetooth connection, the signal tends to radiate all around us. Anybody in the physical space is eligible to hack into it and steal your private and sensitive data.
- Sen’s technology keeps signals within the body by coupling the signals in an electro quasistatic range which is comparatively lower on the electromagnetic spectrum than Bluetooth signals. The lower electro quasistatic range makes it possible for the technology to transmit information only if you touch the surface.
- Information can transfer only if you touch the surface. It won’t be transmitted even if your fingertip is a centimetre above the surface. This level of precision helps protect your data and sensitive details such as credit card credentials from hackers.
- Apps like Apple Pay or credit card machines use a technology known as near-field communication to make payments secure. Thus, you can tap a card or scan your phone to make your digital payments using these apps. The technology developed by Sen promises to make this same payment even more secure in a single gesture.
Remember when you were locked out of your hotel room, and you forgot the key card inside? With Sen’s technology, human touch is enough to grant you access to the building.
You must have seen or even used machines that scan coupons, codes, gift cards, etc. With this technology, you only need a surface which has been programmed to read signals from your fingertip.
How was the experiment conducted?
I have simplified the experiment procedure for your better understanding. Give it a read:
- The researchers asked a person to interact with two adjacent surfaces initially.
- Each surface had three elements – an electrode to touch, a light that indicates if the data has been transferred, and a receiver which gets data from the finger.
- When the person touched the surface and hence the electrode, the light on the surface will turn on. This light stayed put, thereby indicating the data wasn’t leaked.
No matter how much you try to transfer a photo to your laptop by hovering or waving your hand over the device, it won’t happen. It is because the electrode on the surface needs your direct touch to transfer the data.
Could you use human touch within your technology?
The technology hasn’t yet gained full momentum. But, considering its potential, we can expect it to be implemented in our real lives and change how we interact with devices today.
You need to wear software such as a watch or even a smartphone which will send signals throughout your body to the fingertip. The devices will also have an option which will let you switch off the transmission whenever you like.
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