Try this idea on for size: Built into clothes, clip-on devices, hand-held devices, or eventually implanted devices – tiny, very low wattage transmitters to become part of a “Body-to-Body Network” or BBN. Not so keen on it? What if you got a reduction in monthly cost of your telephone communications for becoming a participating transmitter?
A body-to-body network is not a revolutionary idea, nor does it require yet-to-be-invented technology. In fact, research in this area has been underway for some time. Dr. Simon Cotton of the Wireless Communications Group at Queen’s University (Belfast, UK) heads up a team developing BBN concepts and implementations for, among others, the UK Ministry of Defense.
Soldiers in the chaos of battle often have difficulty with field communications because of barriers, immobile equipment, and atmospheric conditions. However if every soldier could act as a receiving and transmission point, then informal (short range) networks could be established and maintained.
Cotton, who has been working in this research area since 2004, described BBNs as the ‘new frontier of wireless communications.’
‘It’s only in the last six to 10 years that people have actually started thinking “hang on, we can actually put these wireless devices directly on the human body”,’ he said. ‘There are so many exciting applications. It’s a very exciting emerging area and it’s a good place to be at.’
[Source: The Engineer]
The technology behind a BBN does not need to be overly sophisticated. Transmission equipment (antenna, battery, signal processors) can be very small and low power (under 1 watt). As piezoelectric and other electricity generating techniques are improved, body motion could provide enough energy to power a BBN node (node in this case equals a person). Specialized software to coordinate and manage the signals of a BBN is already available.
Obviously a BBN works best (or at all) if there is a certain density of population. Core cities, especially in the streets, are likely locations. Of course, such areas are already saturated with signals from immobile stations of all kinds. The dispersion of people with BBN transmitters must fit a pattern that provides advantages over fixed location transmission, and that may lead only to specialized applications (such as the military).
The biggest barrier to a BBN is probably the carrier device – people. While modern humans are becoming accustomed to festooning themselves with electronic and digital devices (cameras, phones, pads, watches, beepers, MP3 players, and so forth), these are personal accoutrements. Wearing or carrying a public transmitter, which entails certain responsibilities, may not be very appealing. Of course, incentives can be found but their cost must also be part of the ‘business plan’ for a BBN.
Whether it becomes a raging commercial success, all the rage in fashion, or just something to rage at – the idea of a body-to-body network is another one of those ‘if we can think of it, we will do it’ kinds of technology. Its ultimate impact is hard to gauge, other than it could well find useful niches incorporated in other schemes such as surveillance, health monitoring, or team activities. Add another possibility to the ubiquity of electronics in our lives. Or not.