Human Body Comms for Wearables, Implantables, and Ingestibles Will Deliver the "Internet of Bodies"

Designed to replace radio-based communications systems, HBC uses the human body itself as a medium — and offers improved security to boot.

Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have proposed the use of human body communication (HBC) for future wearables and medical devices — and as the underpinnings of what they call the "Internet of Bodies."

"The IoB is a network of wearable, implantable, ingestible and injectable smart objects that allows for in-, on- and off-body communications," explains co-author Ahmed Eltawil of the team's proposal. "For example, smartwatches, smart shoes, pacemakers, and cochlear implants could be interconnected to monitor our biomarkers."

Rather than using traditional wireless communication systems like Bluetooth, though, the researchers suggest that devices making up the IoB could use the human body itself as a communications network: Human Body Communication, or HBC. "HBC uses harmless tiny electrical signals to transmit data through conductive body tissue," says co-author Abdulkadir Celik."“Not only does HBC use a thousand times less energy per bit than radio, it also benefits from much better channel quality."

Initially, HBC-based devices will likely be limited to the medical field — allowing multiple wearables to network together automatically. The team believes its potential is broader, though, including using HBC as a bio-authentication system linked to a person's unique conductance characteristics. "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 proposes.

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

The team's study, which also investigates other possibles means of communication for the IoB, is available on IEEE Xplore under open-access terms ahead of its publication in the IEEE Internet of Things Journal. A related thesis, by study co-author Abeer Alamoodi, is available under closed-access terms from the KAUST University Library.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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