Washington: Researchers have developed a new wireless communication technique that sends magnetic signals through the human body, an advance that may lead to the development of lower power wearable devices.
The new technology could offer a lower power and more secure way to communicate between wearable electronic devices, providing an improved alternative to existing wireless communication systems, researchers said.
An application of this technology would be a wireless sensor network for full-body health monitoring.
"In the future, people are going to be wearing more electronics, such as smart watches, fitness trackers and health monitors," said Patrick Mercier, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of California, San Diego who led the study.
"Currently, these devices transmit information using Bluetooth radios, which use a lot of power to communicate. We're trying to find new ways to communicate information around the human body that use much less power," said Mercier.
Bluetooth technology uses electromagnetic radiation to transmit data, however these radio signals do not easily pass through the human body and therefore require a power boost to help overcome this signal obstruction, or "path loss."
In the study, researchers used a technique called magnetic field human body communication, which uses body as a vehicle to deliver magnetic energy between electronic devices.
An advantage of this system is that magnetic fields are able to pass freely through biological tissues, so signals are communicated with much lower path losses and potentially, much lower power consumption.
Researchers showed that the path losses associated with magnetic field human body communication are at least 10 million times lower than those of Bluetooth radios.
"This technique, to our knowledge, achieves the lowest path losses out of any wireless human body communication system that's been demonstrated so far. This technique will allow us to build much lower power wearable devices," said Mercier.
The researchers said that this technique does not pose any serious health risks. The transmitting power of the magnetic signals sent through the body is expected to be many times lower than that of MRI scanners and wireless implant devices.
Magnetic field human body communication could also offer more security than Bluetooth networks, the researchers said.
The researchers have built a prototype to demonstrate the magnetic field human body communication technique. The prototype consists of copper wires insulated with PVC tubes.
On one end, the copper wires are hooked up to an external analyser and on the other end, the wires are wrapped in coils around three areas of the body: the head, arms and legs.
These coils serve as sources for magnetic fields and are able to send magnetic signals from one part of the body to another using the body as a guide.
With this prototype, researchers were able to demonstrate and measure low path loss communication from arm to arm, from arm to head, and from arm to leg.