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Networking is an important skill to have these days, but this interpretation of the idea is more literal than most: Ericsson, which has been working for a while on a form of capacitive coupling that turns the user into a human cable, is apparently in talks that could lead to commercialization.
After all, we’re full of water and as such we make pretty good conductors. Based on this principle, the Swedish company has got what it calls ‘Connected Me’ working at up to 10Mbps. And, according to Ericsson R&D strategist Jan Hederen, there’s now interest in putting the tech into smartphones.
“We are in discussions with partners in the mobile space,” Hederen told me. “That is really the platform where this technology takes off. Mobile broadband together with the smartphone: that is the infrastructure that is needed.”
Needed for what? A simple example cited by Hederen is that of an electronically operated door lock. Right now you’d need to use a code or a contactless keycard to get through, but Connected Me would make it possible for your hand to be the key. All you’d need is a suitably-equipped smartphone positioned close enough to your skin – say, in your pocket.
“You don’t do anything else; just touch the handle,” Hederen said. “You can also add onto this another case. Let’s say you have an access code to your door at home and you invite friends. You send your friends a one-time access code via SMS and they could use the same technology to get in.”
You could exchange small files with a literal handshake. There would, of course, also be ecommerce applications: Hederen described a scenario where you enter into a shop with a certain app running on your phone, and put what you want into your pocket. Rather than shoplifting, you are in effect choosing items that you then pay for by touching the till.
“Everybody knows machine-to-machine. This is machine-to-nature, one could say,” Hederen said.
Ericsson isn’t in the phone-making business itself, at least not anymore, so licensing is a key outcome for this kind of research.
According to Hederen, Connected Me came out of the company’s ’50 billion connected devices’ drive – the initial iteration involved hooking up a capacitive sensor to a tree, and the success of that slice of oddness led the team to wonder what could be done with the human body.
That said, Ericsson isn’t the first to have the idea of using people as networking kit. IBM’s Thomas G Zimmerman was working on the idea of ‘near-field intrabody communication’ back in the mid-Nineties, and NTT DoCoMo is also on the case. However, at this point in time, Ericsson’s version is by far the fastest.
It’s still lab tech for now, but the concept has been proven. If those “partners in the mobile space” really do bite, networking may become a whole lot more… organic.