Microsoft has been awarded a patent for a technology that could one day harness the natural electrical conductivity of the human body and skin to form a networking conduit.
The patent for "a method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body" was filed in 2000 and awarded last week.
Microsoft proposes in the application that it would be possible for a variety of devices, such as a keyboard or separate speakers for a watch, PDA and radio, to be connected by electrodes to a power source carried on the body.
Data and audio signals could be transmitted over the same power signal, and Microsoft suggested that the increasing number of portable devices people wear or carry with them make the idea plausible.
The technology could significantly reduce the need for multiple power sources such as batteries, and reduce the need for output devices such as speakers to a single source.
It could also reduce interference between devices as they would be networked.
A Microsoft spokesman told vnunet.com: "Microsoft has not recently held discussions about this patent, and it does not currently map to any particular Microsoft product that is either shipping or in development."
But other firms may be given access to the technology. "One of the objectives of the Intellectual Property Licensing Policy Microsoft adopted in December 2003 is to provide other parties with access to the fruits of Microsoft's nearly $7bn annual investment in R&D, especially to innovations that do not end up manifesting as Microsoft products," the firm said in a statement.
Chris Bucke, professor of biotechnology at the University of Westminster, told vnunet.com that the idea is quite possible.
"It is not implausible that information could be transmitted using this system. If you think about acupuncture, 'information' is inserted at one part of the body to have effects elsewhere and does not apparently have harmful effects," he said.
"How one would make practical uses of the type that Microsoft is involved in using skin cells remains to be seen. But this is not a totally batty idea."
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