Sending data through human tissue provides medium for the ‘Internet of Bodies’

According to KAUST researchers, human body communication (HBC) can provide highly secure and power-efficient data transmission among wearable, implanted and ingested medical devices.

The findings open the way for the interconnection of long-lasting wireless devices as the foundation for the IoB.

The internet of things (IoT) is a technology framework in which a variety of devices can be interconnected to provide a broad range of data on the world around us. Autonomous vehicles and smart homes, for example, rely on IoT technologies for monitoring and control.

The researchers believe this same philosophy can be applied to monitoring our own bodies and alerting us to health signals.

“The IoB is a network of wearable, implantable, ingestible and injectable smart objects that allows for in-, on- and off-body communications,” said researcher Ahmed Eltawil. “For example, smartwatches, smart shoes, pacemakers and cochlear implants could be interconnected to monitor our biomarkers.”

However, interconnecting these devices using radio waves like those used in Wi-Fi networks — the conventional go-to technology for such applications — can produce stray outward signals that could allow eavesdropping or biohacking, as well as using excess energy.

“HBC uses harmless tiny electrical signals to transmit data through conductive body tissue,” said Abdulkadir Celik, who also worked on the project. “Not only does HBC use a thousand times less energy per bit than radio, it also benefits from much better channel quality.”

The potential of HBC is not just limited to inter-device networking; due to the unique conductance characteristics of each person, the technology could also be used for bioauthentication, just like a fingerprint.

“Imagine a scenario where simply touching a car steering wheel or the keys on your laptop can continuously authenticate that you are the owner,” Celik explained.

The researchers suggest that IoB using human body channels could be a disruptive technology in many sectors, such as personalised healthcare, remote patient monitoring, smart homes, assisted independent living, occupational health and safety, fitness, sport and entertainment.

“While numerous technical challenges still need to be addressed, such as developing robust, seamless interfaces between the sensor and the human body, HBC certainly opens the possibility of realising extremely compact, cheap, low-power body sensors,” Eltawil added.