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Special Feature

Human Area Networking Technology:

Mitsuru Shinagawa†, Katsuyuki Ochiai, Hideki Sakamoto,
and Toshiaki Asahi
Ubiquitous services that are genuinely user-friendly to everyone will require technologies that enable
communication between people and objects in close proximity. Focusing on the naturalness, inevitabil-
ity, and sense of security conveyed by touching in everyday life, this article describes human area net-
working technology that enables communication by touching, which we call RedTacton. Here, the
human body acts as a transmission medium supporting IEEE 802.3 half-duplex communication at 10
Mbit/s. The key component of the transceiver is an electric-field sensor implemented with an electro-
optic crystal and laser light.

1. Introduction become entangled. Short-range wireless communica-

tion systems such as Bluetooth and wireless local
Today people can communicate anytime, any- area networks (IEEE 802.11b, etc.) have some prob-
where, and with anyone over a cellular phone net- lems. Throughput is reduced by packet collisions in
work. Moreover, the Internet lets people download crowded spaces such as meeting rooms and auditori-
immense quantities of data from remotely located ums filled with people and communication is not
servers to their home computers. Essentially, these secure because signals can be intercepted. The prin-
two technologies enable communications between ciple drawback of infrared communications (IrDA) is
terminals located at a distance from each other. the tight directionality of beams between terminals
Meanwhile, all kinds of electronic devices including needed for the system to be effective.
personal digital assistants (PDAs), pocket video The ultimate human area network solution to all
games, and digital cameras are becoming smaller, so these constraints of conventional technologies is
people can carry around or even wear various person- “intrabody” communication, in which the human
al information and communication appliances during body serves as the transmission medium. In ubiqui-
their everyday activities. However, user-friendly tous services (which imply communication between
ubiquitous services involve more than just network- electronic devices embedded in the environment in
ing between remotely located terminals. Communi- close proximity to people), if we could use the human
cation between electronic devices on the human body body itself as a transmission medium, then this would
(wearable computers) and ones embedded in our be an ideal way of implementing human area net-
everyday environments such as illustrated in Fig. 1 is works because it would solve at a stroke all the prob-
also critical, so this has driven extensive research and lems including throughput reduction, low security,
development on human area networks. and high network setup costs.
Wired connections between electronic devices in The concept of intrabody communication, which
human area networks are cumbersome and can easily uses the minute electric field propagated by the
human body to transmit information, was first pro-
† NTT Microsystem Integration Laboratories posed by IBM [1]. The communication mechanism
Atsugi-shi, 243-0198 Japan has subsequently been evaluated and reported by sev-
E-mail: eral research groups around the world. However, all

Vol. 3 No. 5 May 2005 41

Special Feature

Human area Human area

network network
Human area
Human area


Peripheral computers
Wearable computers

Fig. 1. Human area networking technology.

those reported technologies had two limita-

tions: 1) the operating range through the body
was limited to a few tens of centimeters and Eb
Transmitter Laser light
2) the top communication speed was only 40
kbit/s. These limitations arise from the use of Ea Electro-optic
an electrical sensor for the receiver. An elec- Es
Electric fields Human
trical sensor requires two lines (a signal line
and a ground line), whereas in intrabody
communication there is essentially only one circuit
signal line, i.e., the body itself, which leads to
an unbalanced transmission line, so the signal Eb
is not transmitted correctly. Ec

2. Human area networking

NTT has had excellent success with an Ground
electro-optic sensor combining an electro-
optic crystal with laser light and recently
reported an application of this sensor for mea- Fig. 2. Principle of RedTacton.
suring high-frequency electronic devices [2],
[3]. The electro-optic sensor has three key features: by the transmitter’s signal electrode is represented by
(1) it can measure electric fields from a device under Ea. The system requires a ground close to the trans-
test (DUT) without contacting it, which minimizes mitter signal electrode, so electric field Eb induced
measurement disturbance, (2) ultrawide-band mea- from the body can follow a return path to the trans-
surement is possible, and (3) it supports one-point mitter ground. Moreover, since people are usually
contact measurement that is independent of the standing on a floor or the ground, electric field Ec
ground, which is the most significant feature in the escapes from the body to ground, mainly from the
present context. NTT utilized this third feature to fab-
ricate an intrabody communication receiver for its
* RedTacton: The name we chose for this technology is derived
human area networking technology, which is called
from “touch-act-on” meaning “action triggered by touching” com-
RedTacton*. bined with red, which in Japanese culture is an auspicious color
The operating principle of RedTacton is illustrated with connotations of warmth and love, to convey the cordiality
in Fig. 2. The electric field induced toward the body and warmth of interpersonal communications [4].

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Special Feature

Insulation film


Human body
Data sense

Control signal

RedTacton Detector Electro-optic

transceiver circuit sensor

PDA Receiver


Fig. 3. RedTacton transceiver.

feet. The electric field Es that reaches

the receiver is Es = Ea – (Eb + Ec). It
couples to the electro-optic crystal and
changes the crystal’s optical proper-
ties. This change is detected by laser RedTacton transceiver

light and transformed into digital data

by a detector circuit.

3. RedTacton transceiver

Figure 3 shows a photograph of the

RedTacton transceiver connected to a
PDA and a block diagram of the Red- Transmitting/receiving
Tacton transceiver [5] developed by electrode
NTT. The transmitter consists of a
transmitter circuit that induces electric
fields toward the body and a data sense
circuit, which distinguishes transmit-
ting and receiving modes by detecting Fig. 4. Experimental setup for intrabody communication.
both transmission and reception data
and outputs control signals corresponding to the two ceivers. The experimental setup for intrabody com-
modes to enable two-way communication. We imple- munication assuming communication between two
mented a receive-first half-duplex communication electronic devices (PDAs) is shown in Fig. 4. We pre-
scheme that sends only after checking to make sure pared two sets of RedTacton transceivers, each con-
that there is no data to receive in order to avoid pack- nected to a PDA. The subject held one transmitting/
et collisions between terminals in compliance with receiving electrode in each hand. We quantitatively
the IEEE 802.3 protocol. The receiver consists of an measured the bit error rates of signals sent through
electro-optic sensor and a detector circuit that ampli- the body. The results showed that the system had no
fies the minute incoming signal from the electro- significant practical problems at a transmission speed
optic sensor and converts it to electrical signal. of 10 Mbit/s. Besides communication between two
We conducted a series of trials in which data was hands, we also demonstrated reliable communication
sent through human bodies using RedTacton trans- between a foot and finger and between other loca-

Vol. 3 No. 5 May 2005 43

Special Feature

tions on the person’s body. We also verified that good Some representative applications of RedTacton are
communication was achieved not only when the elec- shown in Fig. 5. Figure 5(a) illustrates communica-
trodes were in direct contact with the person’s skin, tion between mobile electronic devices on one per-
but also when the signals passed through clothing and son. In this case, the person is listening to music from
shoes. a portable audio device through earphones. Instead of
a physical cord tethering the two devices, the data is
4. Human safety passed through the person’s body. Similarly, one
could envision a worker wearing a head-mounted dis-
We investigated the effects of RedTacton technolo- play performing a complex task based on instructions
gy on human health, which is obviously an important delivered through his body from a pocket-sized com-
issue. First, as shown in Fig. 3, the transmitting and puter. Figure 5(b) shows communication between
receiving electrodes of the RedTacton transceiver are devices on different people, enabling them to
completely covered with insulating film, so the body exchange electronic business cards by shaking hands.
of the person acting as the transmission medium is Figure 5(c) illustrates communication between an
completely insulated. This makes it impossible for electronic device on a person and one embedded in
current to flow into a person’s body from the trans- the environment. One can easily think of a wide vari-
ceiver. ety of applications of this type. For example, a person
When communication occurs, displacement current might carry a PDA that transmits an ID or a simple
is generated by the electrons in the body because the script (computer program) to a device embedded in
body is subjected to minute electrical fields. Howev- the environment. Then, when the person briefly
er, such displacement currents are very common touches the system or simply walks through a gate,
everyday occurrences to which we are all subjected. the transmission could trigger various kinds of action
RedTacton conforms to the “Radio Frequency-Expo- such as opening the gate or assessing the toll or
sure Protection Standard (RCR STD-38)” [6] issued charge. A natural gesture such as turning a knob to
by the Association of Radio Industries and Business- open a door could enable identification and authenti-
es (ARIB). The levels produced by RedTacton are cation of the person seeking admission. Figure 5(d)
well below the safety limit specified by this standard. shows a museum setting where a visitor can hear a
detailed description of an object from an audio device
5. Applications embedded nearby by touching the object or simply by
standing in front of the object. And finally, Fig. 5(e)
In this section we highlight three distinctive fea- illustrates a system where a metal surface acts as the
tures of RedTacton. First, a transmission path is conductor of electric fields instead of a human body.
formed automatically by body contact and this initi- A conductive metal sheet is placed on top of a table,
ates communication between electronic devices. A and a conferencing system is created simply by plac-
device can be started, information can be obtained, or ing devices on it. Laptop computers could be con-
various services can be triggered by a wide range of nected to the Internet by simply placing them on such
natural human actions such as grasping, sitting down, a table. Even different networks could be supported,
walking, or standing in a particular place. Second, the such as an enterprise LAN (local area network) and
communication is interactive and broadband. In con- Internet access, by providing separate metal sheets
trast to RFID (radio frequency identification), which for each network.
is only capable of one-way transmission of short ID
messages, RedTacton supports two-way exchange of 6. Conclusion
large amounts of data between portable electronic
devices. In contrast to conventional wireless systems, RedTacton is an exciting new technology for human
RedTacton provides an independent transmission area networking. We have developed a transceiver
path for each individual person (that is, for each con- that uses the human body as a data transmission
ductor) even in congested places, so it provides very medium based on an electric-field sensor that uses an
secure, fast communication without any interference. electro-optic crystal and laser light. Using this trans-
Third, almost anything that acts as a conductor—a ceiver, we succeeded in achieving 10BASE commu-
human or animal body, water, metal, etc.—can serve nication in accordance with IEEE 802.3 through a
as a RedTacton transmission path. This means that human body from one hand to the other hand.
there is no need for a dedicated cable or antenna. While our immediate objective is to implement a

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Special Feature

Exchange electronic Authentication is

business cards performed by
by shaking hands. reading ID.
No cord between
the earphones and device

walk through. PDA

(a) Communication between (b) Communication between devices (c) Communication from a device on a
devices on the same person on different people (exchange of person to a device embedded in
(portable audio) business card data) the environment (gateway system)

Transmission Connect a device by

medium setting it on the table.


Hear music or a description
by standing
in front of an exhibit.
Links are divided into
intranet and Internet access.

(d) Communication from a device embedded (e) Communication between devices

in the environment to a device on a mediated by conductor
person (explanatory tour in a museum) (conferencing system)

Fig. 5. Applications of RedTacton.

RedTacton system supporting two-way intrabody References

communication at a rate of 10 Mbit/s between any
two points on the body, our longer-term plans include [1] T. G. Zimmerman, “Personal Area Networks: Near-field intrabody
communication,” IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 35, Nos. 3&4, pp. 609-
developing a mass-market transceiver interface sup- 617, 1996.
porting PDAs and notebook computers while contin- [2] T. Nagatsuma and M. Shinagawa, “Photonic measurement technolo-
uing efforts to reduce the size and power consump- gies for high-frequency electronics,” NTT REVIEW, Vol. 14, No. 6,
pp. 12-24, 2002.
tion of the transceiver to enhance its portability. NTT [3] M. Shinagawa, “Development of Electro-optic Sensors for Intra-body
is committed to using its comprehensive commercial- Communication,” NTT Technical Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 6-11,
ization functions to push this research out to the mar- 2004.
ketplace as quickly as possible while moving ahead [5] M. Shinagawa, M. Fukumoto, K. Ochiai, and H. Kyuragi, “A near-
with tests and trials in collaboration with commercial field-sensing transceiver for intra-body communication based on the
partners as necessary [7]. electro-optic effect,” IEEE Trans. IM, Vol. 53, No. 6, pp. 1533-1538,
[7] M. Mizoguchi, T. Okimura, and A. Matsuda, “Comprehensive Com-
mercialization Functions,” NTT Technical Review, Vol. 3, No. 5, pp.
12-16, 2005.

Vol. 3 No. 5 May 2005 45

Special Feature

Mitsuru Shinagawa Hideki Sakamoto

Distinguished technical member, NTT Senior Manager & Producer, Strategic Busi-
Microsystem Integration Laboratories. ness Creation Team, NTT Department III (R&D
He received the B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees Strategy Department).
in electronic engineering from Tohoku Universi- He received the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees
ty, Sendai, Miyagi in 1983, 1985, and 2005, in communication engineering from Osaka Uni-
respectively. In 1985, he joined NTT Electrical versity, Suita, Osaka in 1984, 1986, and 1999,
Communication Laboratories, Tokyo, Japan. His respectively. He also received the M.S. degree in
technical areas of interest include timing jitter Management of Technology from MIT. Since
analysis of high-speed sampling systems, elec- joining NTT in 1986, he has mainly been
tro-optic sensors, high-precision waveform mea- engaged in developing multimedia systems. He
surement for ultrafast electronics, electric field served as Project Editor of ISO MPEG-21 Stan-
measurement of printed circuit boards, and com- dardization Activity from 2000 to 2002. He is the
munication technology for human area networks. author of “Textbook of MPEG (ASCII, 2002)”,
He has received the Andrew R. Chi Prize Paper “Textbook of RFID (ASCII, 2005)”, “Textbook
Award from IEEE Transactions on Instrumenta- of Digital Broadcast (IDG, 2002)”, “Textbook of
tion and Measurement in 1992 and the Okochi Digital Content Distribution (ASCII, 2003)”, and
Memorial Award of Japan in 1997. He is a mem- “Useful English Expressions 400 for MBA
ber of IEEE and the Institute of Electronics, (ALC, 2000)”.
Information and Communication Engineers of
Toshiaki Asahi
Associate Manager & Producer, Strategic
Katsuyuki Ochiai Business Creation Team, NTT Department III
Senior Research Engineer, NTT Microsystem (R&D Strategy Department).
Integration Laboratories. He received the B.S. degree in electronic engi-
He received the B.E. and M.E. degrees in infor- neering from Osaka Electro-Communication
mation engineering from Utsunomiya Universi- University in 1992. He joined NTT’s Equipment
ty, Utsunomiya, Tochigi, in 1988 and 1990, Engineering Department, Kobe, Japan, in 1992,
respectively. He joined NTT LSI Laboratories, where he was engaged in access network engi-
Kanagawa, Japan in 1990, where he engaged in neering. After that, he moved to the Equipment
research on a concurrent design environment for Planning Department, NTT Headquarters, where
system LSIs. Since 2002, he has been with NTT he was engaged in equipment planning and
Microsystem Integration Laboratories, where he investment. Currently he is engaged in creating
has been involved in R&D of broadband intra- new business using technology produced by
body communication systems. NTT Laboratories.

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