MUNICH A German startup company has developed a possible alternative to short-range communications technologies such as RFID, Bluetooth and Near Field Communications (NFC). In contrast to those processes, the company's Skinplex technology uses human skin as a transmission medium.
Skinplex technology could be used between an identifier worn on the user's body and a receiver integrated into a car, for example. A distinct code is transmitted through touch, the receiver recognizes its dedicated, authorized sender, and the car door is opened, for example.
Skinplex technology uses certain electrical specifics inherent to human skin for the transmission. "Skin's resistance includes a real part and an imaginary part," stated Stefan Donat, Ident Technology AG's chief operating officer. "For our data transfer we use a frequency with which the imaginary part disappears." Skinplex transmissions operate at 195 kHz, which is one one of several of these kinds of license-free frequencies.
In operation, when the bearer of the identifier touches the receiver, the transmission is activated. A current of 30 nanoamperes flows across the bearer's skin a process which Donat asserted is completely safe for the bearer. Despite the signal's low level, Donat stated that the security of the transmission using Skinplex technology is better than that of competing transmission processes. Prototypes have transmitted a 128-bit code at 9600 baud clearly identifying the bearer.
Devices can also be set so that they respond not only during direct contact, but also if they are simply in the vicinity via a capacitive link. The maximum distance that could be bridged is about 50 centimeters, which is a clear "range advantage" over RFID and NFC, Donat says.
"Essentially, all applications that require the presence of a certain authorized person can be implemented with it," Donat explained. Some examples include unlocking car doors; car anti-theft devices; clearance for computer use; theft protection for cell phones, cameras, or other portable electronic devices; and the unlocking of security devices of all kinds.
Medical technology applications, such as the wireless implementation of ECG devices, are also being contemplated.
The company has already applied for 16 patents. "Soon there will be a couple more of them," Donat announced.
In contrast to RFID technology, the receiver does not obtain its energy from the sender's electrical field. The devices are fitted with a small battery that is designed to last for three years. Nevertheless, Donat sees a cost advantage over popular solutions based on RFID. "Our technology is 30 to 50 percent less expensive than any other transponder reader and ours is more convenient," Donat promises.
The company is already holding talks with a number of possible European partners regarding high-volume implementation. U.S. companies are also interested.
Microsoft is working on developing a similar solution. However, "Ident Technology already has the key patents in hand," noted Donat.
Christoph Hammerschmidt is editor in chief of eetimes.de.