How many mobile electronic devices to you have now? A smartphone, a laptop, a tablet, digital camera, maybe even a smart watch? And how often is it necessary to transfer pictures, documents or videos, between your devices? The inTouch technology developed by researchers from the VTT Research Center of Finland lets a ring, bracelet, or even a smart fingernail act as a conduit to transfer information between devices simply and securely – even when the devices are owned by different people.
You have probably wished you had such a feature at some point. I was recently at an event where I was working with five friends. We had all taken pictures at the event, and now we wanted to share the pictures with each other. But we all had different devices with different operating systems. We uploaded the pictures – one at a time – to Facebook or another online service, and then downloaded them one at a time to our devices, and then again to our laptops or desktop computers once we got home. But what if there was a better way?
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The team at the Smart Interaction Solutions lab at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland, led by Dr. Jani Mäntyjärvi has been experimenting with different devices in different forms that can act as a “touch conduit” of information between different devices.
The basic idea is that the user wears a ring, or bracelet, watch, or even a “smart fingernail” (i.e. a small chip embedded in an artificial fingernail) that has some small amount of memory, an antenna, but no battery. The system would require the devices to have a special antenna that sends out enough energy to power the ring or other inTouch device, just like how an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip works.
When the user touches their device with an inTouch ring, for example, a special icon appears. If the user wants to upload a small amount of information, like a website address, or a small picture, the data is actually stored in the ring. Then when the user touches another device equipped with the same technology, they can initiate a download from the ring back into the device.
Sending a friend a website address is a simple task of touching your smartphone on the web page, selecting the “upload” icon, and then touching the friend’s device and selecting download. The information is wirelessly transferred via the ring.
Because the ring has limited storage capacity, the cloud is used as an intermediary for larger amounts of data, such as video files. The inTouch software uploads the file to a cloud service, so the ring only has to store a link to the data. Then, once the user touches the device to which they wish to send the video file, it knows where to go to download it.
This technique does require some modifications to the devices involved – a special antenna and transmitter/receiver needs to be incorporated into each smartphone, tablet, or computer in addition to the Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth wireless technologies that may already be there.
Dr. Mäntyjärvi sees this type of wearable information conduit as enabling quite a few applications besides just simple file sharing. The ring can act as a password or security device that can unlock doors, or perhaps start your car. A bracelet could be used as an ID card to enable industrial equipment, or identify specific operators. The ring could also contain a link to a person's medical information that doctors could access in the emergency room.
The chips and antennas involved are very small, and since they have no batteries, can be placed in any number of wearable accessories, clothing, jewellery, or, as mentioned, a fashionable fake fingernail.
You can see a demonstration of the technology in the following video.