While 5G is still in the process of being adopted globally, researchers are already exploring the potential of the next generation of wireless technology: 6G. A team from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has found a way to utilize the human body as an antenna. As a result, 6G wireless could actually use people as antennas.

6G Wireless Could Use People As Antennas

As 5G technology becomes more widely adopted, researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst have already begun considering the potential of 6G. According to the study, one unique aspect of 6G could be its use of human beings as antennas, a departure from previous wireless technologies.

One possibility for 6G technology is the use of Visible Light Communication (VLC), a wireless version of fiberoptic communication. Currently, fiberoptic communication relies on thin strands of glass or plastic to transmit data through flashes of light. While these fibers are able to transmit large amounts of information, they are also delicate and prone to damage

According to the researchers at UMass Amherst, they have developed a low-cost method for collecting excess energy generated by VLC, utilizing the human body as an antenna. This recycled energy could potentially be used to power wearable devices and other electronics. This innovative approach could help to increase the efficiency and sustainability of 6G communication systems.

According to a New York Times report, New York has started erecting thousands of giant grey 5G towers.

“VLC is quite simple and interesting,” says Jie Xiong, professor of information and computer sciences at UMass Amherst, in university release. “Instead of using radio signals to send information wirelessly, it uses the light from LEDs that can turn on and off, up to one million times per second.”

One of the main advantages of VLC is that it can utilize existing infrastructure for data transmission. Many modern devices and buildings are already equipped with LED lighting, which has the potential to be repurposed for data transmission in a 6G network. This could greatly simplify the implementation of the new technology, as much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place.

“Anything with a camera, like our smartphones, tablets or laptops, could be the receiver,” Xiong explains.

6G could rely on VLC ‘leakage’

According to the researchers, VLC systems suffer from significant energy “leakage” because LEDs create “side-channel RF signals” — or radio waves. If scientists are successful in harvesting this RF energy, it will be put to good use.

To test this concept, the team designed an antenna using coiled copper wire to collect leaked RF energy. The next step will be to determine the optimal design for collecting and utilizing this energy.

To determine the most effective way to collect the leaked RF energy, the researchers experimented with a range of surfaces and wire thicknesses. These included different types of materials such as plastic, cardboard, wood, and steel, as well as various digital devices that were turned on and off. The most promising results were obtained when the coil was wrapped around a human body, according to the first author of the study, Minhao Cui.

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The team experimented using different daily objects to amplify the harvested power, and discovered that the human body is one of the best materials. CREDIT: Cui et al., 10.1145/3560905.3568526

The results of the experiments showed that human bodies were the most effective medium for amplifying the coil’s ability to collect leaked RF energy. When the coil was attached to a person, it was able to collect up to 10 times more energy than when it was used alone. This suggests that the use of human beings as antennas could potentially be a viable option for 6G communication systems.

A cheap bracelet could give you 6G service

Based on these findings, the researchers designed an affordable, wearable device called the “Bracelet+,” which can be worn on the upper forearm. The study authors note that it could potentially be modified to take other forms, such as a ring, belt, anklet, or necklace, though the bracelet design was found to be the most effective for power collection.

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Different coil designs influence the amount of power harvested. CREDIT: Cui et al., 10.1145/3560905.3568526

“The design is cheap—less than fifty cents,” the study authors note. “But Bracelet+ can reach up to micro-watts, enough to support many sensors such as on-body health monitoring sensors that require little power to work owing to their low sampling frequency and long sleep-mode duration.”

“Ultimately, we want to be able to harvest waste energy from all sorts of sources in order to power future technology,” Xiong concludes.

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