[CEATEC] Transfer Data to and from Your Hand, Human Body Communication Devices

Oct 3, 2007
Hideo Ampo, Nikkei Electronics
Data is sent from a mobile phone to a wireless headset via the human body.
Data is sent from a mobile phone to a wireless headset via the human body.
[Click to enlarge image]
Data is sent from a transmitter module embedded in the floor to a mobile phone for playback. The communication can be established even with shoes on.
Data is sent from a transmitter module embedded in the floor to a mobile phone for playback. The communication can be established even with shoes on.
[Click to enlarge image]
Music is played back on a portable music player by using the human communication module.
Music is played back on a portable music player by using the human communication module.
[Click to enlarge image]

Devices and components utilizing the "human body communication" function are on display at CEATEC Japan 2007. The function performs communications via the human body.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. unveiled a mobile phone and Alps Electric Co. Ltd. showed a communication module using the function.

NTT DoCoMo prototyped a mobile phone equipped with a module for human body communication system. A user who carries this handset in a pocket or around his or her neck can send and receive data simply by holding their hand over the communication terminal.

In the existing system such as "Osaihu Kehtai (Wallet Mobile Phone)," a user has to take out the handset and hold it over the communication terminal. NTT DoCoMo's new handset makes it possible to establish communications just by holding a hand over the terminal, even with the phone in a pocket.

At the exhibition site, the company demonstrated sending music data from a mobile phone to a wireless headset. The headset is provided with an electrode and a reception module. It receives music data via the human body and plays it back on a speaker. The company also demonstrated sending text data from a transmitter module embedded in the floor and receiving the data by the mobile phone via the human body.

"We will possibly manage to commercialize the product in 2009, although we have not decided the release schedule," the company said.

The prototype handset was manufactured by Fujitsu Ltd. The communication module incorporated in the handset is a joint development by Alps Electric and Kaiser Technology Inc. The data transmission rate of the communication module is 40 kbps.

At Alps Electric's booth, the company also demonstrated transmitting music data by using a module for the human communication system. The company installed communication modules connected with a portable music player and a speaker.

When a visitor holds hands over the modules, data is transmitted via the human body and music is played back. Mass production of this communication module "will be ready within this fiscal year" (by March 2009), said a technical demonstrator of the Optic & Sensor Project of Alps Electric's New Business Promotion Division.

In this communication system, data can be transmitted even when a user does not directly touch the communication module, i.e. when the user's hand is located several centimeters away from the module or positioned behind an insulator such as a handkerchief. The setup utilizes what is called "electric field communication system" in which the human body acts as a sort of capacitor to transmit data.

The data transmission rate of the communication module is 40 kbps. (The module is capable of both sending and receiving data.)

"We are planning to develop a module that allows transmission at a rate of several kbps to several hundred kbps," said a developer from the Third Sensor Project of the Third Development Department at the Process Technology Development Center, which is part of the Business Development Division of Alps Electric.

According to the company, the power consumption of this system is an order of magnitude lower than that of Bluetooth and other comparable technologies.

The human body communication system is expected to be generally used for transmitting information of business cards, documents, photos, etc. between mobile terminals held by people shaking hands or approaching to each other, voice transmission between a mobile phone and a headset, ticket gate where passengers can go through just by waving their hand over the machine, and electronic locking/unlocking system.

Furthermore, the human body communication system enables a couple to share one portable music player by holding their hands or cuddling up so that they can listen to the same music on their headsets.

"Other application fields are expected such as healthcare, where the system can be used to store data measured by a body fat scale into a mobile phone and gaming utilizing body communications," said the Alps Electric technical demonstrator.

"The human body communication system is roughly classified into two types using different methods, i.e. electric field system and electric current system, and the R&D is promoted for both types," said Hideyuki Nebiya, president and C.E.O. of Amplet Inc., who is familiar with the human body communication system.

Nebiya also works as an instructor at Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, School of Engineering of Tokyo Denki University as well as as an instructor of Information Communication Technology Course at Yokosuka Telecom Research Park Inc.

"Human body communication devices for military purposes have been developed worldwide," he said. "In Europe, such military devices are actively developed. But there are only few cases where human body communication system is utilized in consumer products."

"Japan also has a good chance of taking initiative in the market development," he added. "Standardization must be considered by the entire industry so as to achieve compatibility with other near field wireless communication systems and optical communication systems."