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Human Body As The Password For Secure Access

BodyCom by Microchip uses the human body to keep guns and power tools safe through simple and secure authentication.

Ryan Rowe
Ryan Rowe on March 14, 2013.

The world may have a new ally in gun control and safety.  Based out of Chandler, Arizona, the newly unveiled BodyCom by Microchip uses the human body to grant users access to things like firearms, front doors and even doggy doors.

At just $3-$4 to add to a device, BodyCom creates a “personal are network,” or short-range communication system, that uses the body as a wire between two points, allowing for a bevy of unique applications. Anything from securing firearms and dangerous power tools to unlocking your front door by simply touching the doorknob or granting doggy-door access to your BodyCom-wearing pet; the sky, or body, is the limit with this technology.

The BodyCom technology is a fob that communicates to a base device that is attached or embedded in an endpoint. The base sends a 125-kilohertz signal through your body to the fob, in your pocket or on your keychain, to wake it up. The fob then sends an eight-megahertz authentication signal back to the base to approve your access.

According to Edward Dias, Microchip’s security business development manager, the two frequencies are used because they couple well with the human body.  And while this iteration of BodyCom requires a user to make physical contact with the endpoint, it is possible to set it up so the user can be authenticated from a few inches away, he says.

BodyCom is currently live in Italy, where motorcycle helmets and handlebars are tethered to one another so riders can’t take off with without first proving their helmet is present, but Dias and Microchip hope that other device makers are encouraged to include BodyCom in their products.

Although BodyCom and the idea of “personal area networks” is not a new idea, tracing back to Thomas Zimmerman in his 1980 thesis at MIT, the application of using the body to enable the exchange of data has yet to gain much traction.  However, lawmakers are currently kicking the tires on a similar idea with RFID and biometric-equipped “smartguns.”

The technology isn’t there just yet, but Dias says Microchip could even add the capability to determine whether the person with the fob is the person that should be given authorization to authenticate.

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Chris Harrison, a PHD Candidate at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and cofounder of Qeexo, a startup whose touch-screen technology can distinguish knuckle from fingertip taps, would like to take the BodyCom technology even further.  As we wear and attach more and more electronic devices—like a smart watch or Google Glass—Harrison imagines BodyCom could play a part in allowing these gadgets to communicate with each other using the body as a medium.

Microchip

MIT Technology Review

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