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Microchip Markets RFID Technology that Transmits via the Human Body

The company says its BodyCom active tags and readers are more secure than RFID technology that transmits signals through the air, making it suitable for controlling access to cars, buildings, power tools, computers and firearms.
By Claire Swedberg

Although conventional radio frequency identification could be used to accomplish many of the same functions, Dias notes, RFID transmissions traveling through the air would not be as secure, since they could theoretically be intercepted by an unauthorized user equipped with the appropriate RFID reader. What's more, he says, the solution is simpler to implement since the technology does not require antennas, as a standard RFID system would. Conventional RFID, he adds, would require greater power to create inductive fields when transmitting a signal.

The reason why BodyCom base unit employs 125 kHz to transmit a signal to the tag is that this particular frequency is the one most typically used for other keyless-entry technologies. The base unit can be powered externally or be connected to a battery to power that transmission. The mobile unit, powered by a small replaceable cell battery, can remain dormant until receiving a 125 kHz signal from the base station, at which time it would transmit an 8 MHz signal.

The BodyCom technology has been in development for about a year, Dias says, and is now being tested by companies that he declines to name or describe. The most common use cases, he indicates, are initially in access control.

"The technology can be configurable by the user," Dias states. "You could have proximity on both sides," in which case, a user's hand would only need to come within a few inches of the base station, while the mobile unit could be close enough to the user when stored in a purse or a briefcase to still utilize the human body to complete the transmission. Alternatively, the system could be configured so that both the base station and the mobile unit must be in direct contact with a user's body.

Dias says the company receives calls daily from businesses with new ideas for how the technology could be implemented. For example, some firms are considering employing the technology for easy access control by installing a base station in a floor pad that users would walk over. The base unit's transmission could travel through a person's shoe and over that individual's body to the mobile unit in the user's pocket, or around his or her neck on a lanyard, thereby triggering the door to open so that the person would not need to touch anything to prompt the door to open. Moreover, the system could operate in a motorcycle helmet, requiring contact between a mobile unit in the helmet and the individual's head in order to trigger the bike's ignition to activate.

Microchip Technology is offering a BodyCom development kit for $149, including a single base unit and two mobile units with the necessary firmware to operate. "When you introduce this kind of technology to a room full of engineers," Dias says, "you can see the wheels start spinning" as they generate more ways in which it could be used.

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