Researchers unveil wearable technology that enables digital communication through human touch

Prototype wearable showing smartwatch transferring data to laptop
PROTOTYPE: A researcher transfers data from a chip in a watch by touching a sensor connected to a laptop

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana, USA, have developed a prototype wearable device that enables users to securely transmit a password, photograph or other digital information and potentially make card and mobile payments simply by touching a sensor with their fingertip.

The technology, known as BodyWire-HCI, “would essentially let your body act as the link between your card or smartphone and the reader or scanner, making it possible for you to transmit information just by touching a surface”.

“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,” says Purdue associate professor  of electrical and computer engineering Shreyas Sen. 

He adds that unlike existing fingerprint authentication “this technology wouldn’t rely on biometrics — it would rely on digital signals”.

Other potential use cases include gaining access to buildings or vehicles simply by touching a handle equipped with hardware supporting BodyWire-HCI technology.

Software on the device would also be configured to prevent the unwanted transfer of information to every surface equipped to receive it.

“The technology works by establishing an ‘internet’ within the body that smartphones, smartwatches, pacemakers, insulin pumps and other wearable or implantable devices can use to send information,” the researchers explain.

“These devices typically communicate using Bluetooth signals that tend to radiate out from the body. A hacker could intercept those signals from 30 feet away.

“Sen’s technology instead keeps signals confined within the body by coupling them in a so-called ‘electro-quasistatic range’ that is much lower on the electromagnetic spectrum than typical Bluetooth communication. This mechanism is what enables information transfer by only touching a surface.

“Even if your finger hovered just one centimetre above a surface, information wouldn’t transfer through this technology without a direct touch.

“This would prevent a hacker from stealing private information such as credit card credentials by intercepting the signals.”

A short video shows how the technology works:

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