New Technology Promises Data Transmission Through Human Touch

Purdue University engineers in Indiana, USA have developed a new technology that makes it possible to send information through human touch. This technology is said to be the first of its kind that can transmit information through direct touch of a fingertip, which permits the user’s body to act as a link between a payment card or smartphone or a reader or scanner.

This technology utilizes the human body as a wire-like communication channel, to enable human-computer interactions. This technology can’t be used for money transfer at the moment, however, according to the researchers, wearing the prototype as a watch, a user’s body can be utilized to transmit information such as a password or photo when touching a sensor on a laptop.

The study which is published in the journal Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction was led by Purdue University alumnus Shovan Maity as a Ph.D. student.

According to the research, the signal leakage out of the body is minimized by utilizing a novel, low-frequency Electro-QuasiStatic Human Body Communication (EQS-HBC) technique that enables interaction strictly when there is a conductive communication path between the transmitter and receiver through the human body. The research further describes how the technology works by establishing an ‘internet’ within the human body that smartphones, smartwatches, pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other wearable or implantable devices could transmit information.

Usually, these devices communicate via Bluetooth signals that radiate from the body. Shreyas Sen, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University, said that a hacker could intercept these signals from 30 feet away, explaining how this new technology would as a substitute keep signals confined within the body by coupling them in an ‘Electro-Quasistatic range’ lower on the electromagnetic spectrum than Bluetooth communication.

This technology will not transmit any data if there is no direct touch, which makes this sci-fi wearable technology even more secure. This means, even if a finger hovered a centimeter above the surface, it won’t send any information, thus preventing hackers from intercepting the signals to access private information. This exact scenario was tested in the lab by having a person interact with two adjacent surfaces, each equipped with an electrode to touch, a receiver to obtain data from the finger and a light to indicate that data had transferred.

The engineering team researchers confirmed that if an electrode was touched directly by a finger, only the light of that surface turned on while that of the other surfaces remained off, indicating that no information had leaked out.

“Anytime you are enabling a new hardware channel, it gives you more possibilities. Think of big touch screens that we have today – the only information that the computer receives is the location of your touch. But the ability to transfer information through your touch would change the applications of that big touch screen,” Sen said.

These researchers believe the technology could also replace cards and key fobs that utilize Bluetooth to grant access to a building: as a substitute, a person could just touch a door handle to enter.

“You wouldn’t have to bring a device out of your pocket. You could leave it in your pocket or on your body and just touch,” Sen said.

Putting this technology into effect in real life, however, would require surfaces everywhere to have the right hardware for finger recognition, and software on the device would have to be put together to send signals via the human body to the fingertip – as well as having a way to turn off so that information wouldn’t be transferred to every surface equipped to receive it.

The Purdue Engineering team is all set to present the findings of their study at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer Human Interaction (ACM CHI) conference in May 2021.

Aimal Khan is the founder & CEO of Engineering Passion. He is an engineer and has obtained his bachelor's degree in energy engineering from Kandahar University.