Ericsson’s Connected Me will make the Human Body a Transmitter

Jan Hederén, Strategy Manager at Ericsson demonstrates capacitive coupling and the Connected Me solution at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona /Courtesy of Ericsson Images
Jan Hederén, Strategy Manager at Ericsson demonstrates capacitive coupling and the Connected Me solution at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona /Courtesy of Ericsson Images

Ericsson has developed a solution that bridges the connection between mobile networks and all real world objects through the human body. The company cites the human behavior of touching as a smart way of interacting with digital services. The human body can become part of a communication network by holding a mobile phone in one hand and placing your other hand on another 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 solution, Connected Me, was conceived as part of Ericsson’s campaign to connect 50 billion devices globally by 2020. According to Ericsson, this their way of re-thinking communication, specifically mobile broadband. A proof-of-concept demonstration showed that a very weak signal can be made to pass through the human body thus transmitting data. With the body being used as a connection, the transmission speeds were between 6Mbps and 10Mbps.

The demonstration included media transmission, picking up a web link and opening a door by sending the pass code to the handle. The smartphones used in the demo were equipped with special digital circuitry which provided capacitive data transmission. A plate was then connected to the circuit transmitting the signal through the human body. The receiver had a similar circuit and plate setup. This identified the weak signal transmitted through the human body.

The whole process is called capacitative coupling. At the transmitting electrode, the voltage is modulated. A small current then flows through the body. And then, at the receiver electrode, the potential variation is detected. Capacitative coupling allows us to send information through organic material. This and the ordinary behavioral communication available through digital communication gives us a powerful combination for new innovation and interaction that is difficult to achieve with other technologies.

While making a presentation for on his master’s thesis in 1995 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Thomas G. Zimmerman attained speeds of 2.4kbps. Ericsson currently runs on speeds of 10Mbps, although speeds of 20Mbps-40Mbps are within reach.

With capacitive coupling, the power levels used are low, therefore no danger is posed to body. Ericsson conducted tests on the lab kits for standards compliance. 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 solution is intended to be used along Bluetooth or near-field communication (NFC) to make for simpler communication. 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. Partnering with the South Korean science university KAIST, the Japanese telecom operator NTT DoCoMo have also demonstrated a prototype HBC solution reaching speeds of 40kbps.

The solutions benefits include:

  • 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.