Internet of bodies links devices with human body communication

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Researchers are proposing the Internet of Bodies, a concept that interconnects devices found in-on-and-around the human body via secure human body communication, for applications including bioauthentication and health monitoring. 

Internet of Bodies
The internet of bodies (IoB) is a network of wearable, implantable, ingestible and injectable smart objects that allows for in-, on- and off-body communications (© 2021 KAUST; Heno Hwang)

Detailed in IEEE Internet of Things Journal, researchers at KAUST have shown that human body communication (HBC), which takes advantage of the mostly conductive features of body tissues, can provide the highly secure and power-efficient data transmission among wearable, implanted and ingested medical devices.

The team said their findings could lead to the interconnection of wireless devices as the foundation for the internet of bodies (IoB). In use, devices such as smartwatches, pacemakers and cochlear implants could be interconnected to monitor human biomarkers.

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“The IoB is a network of wearable, implantable, ingestible and injectable smart objects that allows for in-, on- and off-body communications,” Ahmed Eltawil said in a statement.

Interconnecting these IoB devices using radio waves like those used in Wifi networks can, however, produce stray outward signals that could allow eavesdropping or biohacking, as well as use excess energy.

Through a systematic investigation of potential IoB interconnection technologies, Eltawil and colleagues Abdulkadir Celik, Abeer Alamoodi and Khaled Salama found HBC to be the most promising.

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

The team added that HBC is not limited to interdevice networking; due to the unique conductance characteristics of each person, the technology could also be used for bioauthentication.

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

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 said.