Japan is planning to make of the power of human touch in data transmission.
Telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) is planning a commercial launch of a system to enter rooms that frees users from the trouble of rummaging in their pockets or handbags for ID cards or keys.
It uses technology to turn the surface of the human body itself into a means of data transmission.
As data travels through the user's clothing, handbag or shoes, anyone carrying a special card can unlock the door simply by touching the knob or standing on a particular spot without taking the card out.
"In everyday life, you're always touching things. Even if you are standing, you are stepping on something," research engineer Mitsuru Shinagawa told AFP.
"These simple touches can result in communication," said Shinagawa, senior research engineer at the company's NTT Microsystem Integration Laboratories.
He said future applications could include a walk-through ticket gate, a cabinet that opens only to authorised people and a television control that automatically chooses favourite programmes.
The system also improves security. It ensures that only drivers can open their cars by touching the doors if the keys are in their pockets, not people around them.
NTT has already developed technology that allows swapping data as heavy as motion pictures through a handshake, although it has not been put into commercial use.
NTT Electronics Corp., a group company, plans to start sales of the room-entry system in the coming months, probably in the spring, said NTT business creation official Toshiaki Asahi.
It will be the world's first commercial application of human body communication using electric fields, rather than sending electric currents into the human body, according to NTT.
"There is demand for hands-free entry as there are workplaces where you always have your hands occupied or can't touch things for hygiene or medical reasons. In some factories it's simply dangerous to dangle something from your neck," Asahi said.
The price is yet to be announced but will be "a bit pricier" than the conventional IC card system, he said, adding the group expects to start only with a limited market.
An IC card system is comprised of a chip-embedded card and a reading device, with its user placing the card over an article for a data feed.
Other companies have focused on electric currents and required users to wear items on the outside of their bodies.
In 2004, Matsushita Electric Works Ltd., a unit of Panasonic maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., launched a system that sends a weak electric current into the human body to feed data.
The user was required to wear a watch-like device and touch a data receiver but no single system has been sold in its more than three years on the market, a company spokeswoman said, but they never won an order for the product.
"We saw little demand... as customers believed the current entry/departure systems are good enough," she said.
Shinagawa said his technology's ultimate aim was to go beyond human-to-machine communications and focus on interaction among humans.
"As telecom technology has developed, human contact has faded. We started the research aiming to develop a new concept of telecommunication through touching," he said.
The technology is called "RedTacton," a word coined from "touch" and "act on" along with the colour red, which represents "warm" telecommunications, NTT said.
Eventually, doctors and nurses may be able to record patients' data such as their pulse and temperature just through physical contact, Shinagawa said.
The system would free caregivers to focus on communicating and also help ensure against neglect by keeping track of how many times a worker has visited.
"Video cameras risk infringing on privacy but this enables care givers and receivers to maintain mutual trust in a natural manner," he said.