Microsoft patents on-body networking

Microsoft has a patent on a new kind of network: Your body.

The software giant on Tuesday received a U.S. patent for a "method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body." An application for the patent, No. 6,754, 472, was filed in 2000. It proposes linking portable devices such as watches, keyboards, displays and speakers using the conductivity of "a body of a living creature."

A variety of devices could be powered selectively from a single power source carried on the body, via multiple power supply signals at different frequencies, according to the patent abstract. In addition, data and audio signals could be transmitted over that same power signal. The power source and devices would be connected to the body via electrodes.

In the patent, Microsoft said it set out to address the proliferation of small handheld or wearable devices with redundant parts for input and output of data, such as separate speakers in a watch, a radio and a PDA (personal digital assistant). If all those devices were networked, they could all share one speaker, the company suggested. Personal wireless networks have potential problems involving power consumption, interference and security, and batteries add weight and are inconvenient to replace or recharge, it wrote.

A Microsoft spokesman on Wednesday confirmed that the company was awarded the patent. Microsoft did not immediately provide any details of product plans for the technology.

The idea of using the body to transmit power among devices is not new, according to Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. However, small batteries and wireless personal-area network technologies such as Bluetooth may be a more practical approach, he said.

"Think about the problems of always having to have things touching your body," Dulaney said. "I think this could be one of those technologies that's interesting but not practical in the long run." One area in which it might be useful is in medical devices, he added.

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