A New Wave of Touch Technology

Imagine your body used a as a medium for sending digital information. Well, researchers at Purdue University have recently developed the technology to accomplish just that. So, by the touch of our fingertips, we will be able to easily relay the credit card information from our phone, send photos to other people, and much more.

I know what you’re thinking: “We’ve been able to use our fingerprints to unlock our phones for years. What’s the big deal?” Well, that kind of technology, relying on a fingerprint to unlock devices, is accomplished through biometrics. Biometrics are simply measurements that are used to identify individuals. So, unlocking my phone using my unique fingerprint or training Siri to understand my distinct, New York-accented, husky voice are examples of using biometrics. It is simply granting authentication based on stored genetic characteristics. However, this new kind of touch technologically can actually send data through your body, making it more dynamic and potentially more secure.

Right now, many wearable technologies that contain sensitive information, such as smartphones, smartwatches, and insulin pumps rely on communication via Bluetooth signals, radiating out from the body. This kind of data-transfer is very susceptible to hackers, who can intercept these signals from 30 feet away. However this new kind of technology actually works through the body to allow devices to communicate. This way, for anything to have access to the sensitive information, it would need to be accessed through touch. There would be no other way for it to leak out.

Purdue experimented on this theory in the lab by situating a person using the touch-technology with two adjacent surfaces. Each surface had an electrode, that, when touched, turned on a corresponding light, indicating data-transfer. The observation was that the person’s finger would have to touch the specific electrode for data to transfer to that one. When the person touched one surface, the other surface’s light would stay off, showing that there was no data-leak. These surfaces must be explicitly touched, too. Hovering over the surface by a centimeter wouldn’t cut it.

The implications for this kind of technology are pretty amazing. Imagine just leaving your phone in your pocket and touching a surface to transfer money from your digital wallet (not just apple pay), or even using it to redeem Subway Sandwich rewards. Instead of using key fobs, we can potentially just have the doors respond to our grasps in order for them to open. With interactive games today, the only kind of data that is transferred is the location of our finger. Imagine if these games had access to so much more.

While this is all very exciting, there is so much that needs to be done in order for this technology to find its way in our society. Surfaces must be configured to receive our digital touch as well as be designed to be restrictive in what information it is allowed to extract from you. You wouldn’t want to graze your hand on some high-tech railing and all of a sudden give somebody your social security number.

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I was a teacher. Now I’m a coder.