Printed labels and cell phones communicate using the body as the conduitconductor

20 January, 2014 - 20:06

Ericsson, Acreo Swedish ICT and LiU are now able to show that the human body can act as a transmitter of information between printed labels and services in a connected smartphone. 

This unique technology means that digital information is transferred from a printed label to a mobile phone using the human body as a communication channel and the first live demonstration  took place at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, 7-10 January.

- The fact that we can now demonstrate that the technology works opens up many opportunities to communicate with objects just by touching them. Information from the objects is then passed on from mobile phones to various Internet services for analysis and storage. If, for example, this technology is used for future packaging it would be possible to gain information on the quality of the content as well as the transport history of the package, says Göran Gustafsson, Department Manager, Printed Electronics at Acreo Swedish ICT.

Demonstrators from logistics, packaging and printed media (eg posters) was also presented at CES.

CES is one of the largest consumer electronics exhibitions in the world. The demonstrations took place on Ericsson's stand by Jan Hederén, Ericsson, and Peter Dyreklev, Acreo Swedish ICT throughout the entire CES, 7-10 January at the Las Vegas Convention Center, USA. Acreo also brought other printed electronic technology platforms for various applications.

The new technology is developed within the VINNOVA UDI programme (Challenge-driven Innovation) within the project "New platforms for communication between the mobile phone and printed smart labels". The project period is 2012-2014 and aims to develop green communication by extending the capabilities of smart phones with the help of smart and dynamic labels capable of collecting information. The project is a collaboration between Acreo Swedish ICT, Linköping University, Ericsson, Peab, Bergendahls, Procordia and others. A significant part of the technical development work has taken place at Printed Electronics Arena-Manufacturing in Norrköping (PEA-M).

How does the technology work?

Each printed label is equipped with an electronic part which contains an identity, a printed antenna and a small printed battery that makes it possible to send a package with data, a short message or an identity. By touching the label the information is sent through the person’s body to a hyper-sensitive receiver that, in this case, is contained in the mobile phone. A small package of 128 bits of data is sufficient to create an enormous number of unique identities.

No electric current is going through the body; instead the electrical field in the body is affected, thus redistributing the charge. The mobile phone, which must be in close contact with the body - for example in your pocket or in your hand - has a receiver that reads the signal and sends the identity on to a suitable app in the phone for further processing. When the identity has been confirmed by the recipient, is it possible to transmit all kinds of information that can be accessed from the cloud using the mobile network. Various actions can be triggered and everyday objects can be connected to the entire Internet using the body and the mobile network.

Linköping University has developed the transmitter and receiver circuits and Acreo Swedish ICT is responsible for the integrated printed label. Ericsson has already shown interest in how data can be passed between objects by using the body and the mobile phone, and it is this idea that now has been further developed into a working concept, including printed labels.

Regarding commercialisation, we still need to reduce the cost of each unit if the major mass market is to open its doors. All major obstacles facing the receiver have been overcome and all that remains now is for it to be integrated into the mobile phone at manufacturing. A small dongle that connects to the phone's USB port is also a possibility.