Share Files With a Fist Bump: Wi-R Confines Signal to a User’s Body
The latest wireless protocol ditches radiation and focuses on a new medium: your body.
Ixana, a specialist in human-computer interfaces with distributed computing, recently developed Wi-R, a communications protocol that turns the human body into a medium through which information can travel. As the popularity of wearable electronics increases, more devices need a high-speed, power-efficient communication protocol to operate. Wi-R aims to shake up how devices talk to each other.
The Wi-R protocol offers several advantages compared to traditional communication techniques, especially in the field of wearable devices. Image used courtesy of Ixana
The platform, built to create a “wire-like wireless” channel on the user, offers unique advantages compared to other protocols like Bluetooth and NFC, boasting energy efficiency improvements and offering a new layer of security for wearables.
While it likely won’t replace radiative communication any time soon, the technology has the potential to carve out its own niche in the consumer electronics industry. This article gives an overview of the Wi-R platform to help engineers understand its strengths and weaknesses and where they may benefit by including it in their designs.
What Is Wi-R?
One of the primary differences between Wi-R and other wireless protocols is how information is sent and received. Traditionally, wireless electronics rely on radiative power transfer, usually in the form of radio frequency (RF) waves. While RF is a well-known design area for good reason, it does pose some disadvantages for short-range communication.
In general, a wireless link needs to be established in various directions, and as such, power must be radiated and received in all directions for an RF system. This inherently creates power losses because radiated power is wasted by being sent where it isn’t used. In addition, the increased range and low directivity of RF-based communication can create security concerns, as information can be readily monitored at long distances from the user.
The EQS fields of Wi-R ensure that signal is only produced around the user, improving power efficiency and security. Image used courtesy of Ixana
Wi-R, on the other hand, does not rely on radiation to accomplish communication. Much how like NFC or wireless charging can use magnetic fields to transfer power, Wi-R uses electric fields (Electro-Quasistatic Fields (EQS), to be exact) to transfer information. For a medium like air, EQS fields have no way of traveling. However, by placing a conductor, such as the human body, near or in contact with the source, the EQS fields create a “bubble” around the user, protecting their information and creating a new communication channel.
Your Own Personal Bubble
It’s important to note that the human body is not acting as an antenna since little power is being sent away from the body. Preliminary results from Ixana show that the range of Wi-R moving away from the body is only 10 cm, but up to 5 m when moving along the body.
The table summarizes the advantages of Wi-R compared to traditional communications protocols in the case of on-body communication. Image used courtesy of Ixana
Confining power to only the body’s surface greatly increases the efficiency of Wi-R, expending less than 1 nJ/b, with that number expected to decrease. The most recent Wi-R device, Ixana's YR11 chip, supports data rates up to 1 Mbps and a center frequency of 1–20 MHz.
Beyond on-body communication, Wi-R has the potential to enhance human-to-human interaction, with Ixana hoping to allow communication via touch, such as sharing files with a fist bump. Other concepts, such as pairing-free devices, AI and AR, and health monitoring, have also been proposed, but the technology is still too young to evaluate fully.
Wi-R or Wireless?
While it’s too early to say whether or not Wi-R will meet all the goals Ixana has set out for it, the technology is certainly unique and gives designers a new, much-needed option for the future of smart devices. This becomes especially true for Metaverse applications, which require high-level integration of response for on-body devices.
The Wi-R protocol can accomplish extremely efficient communication, which is of utmost importance for small wearable devices. Image used courtesy of Ixana
Ixana has already begun looking beyond the YR11, aiming for an even higher data rate of up to 20 Mbps, all the while keeping energy efficiency low. In addition, Ixana has released development kits to allow designers to experiment with Wi-R with their smartphone, pairing-free headphones, or an AR camera/headphone kit.
Regardless of the potential popularity of Wi-R among other communication technologies, the new avenue for human-computer interaction is exciting for both designers and users. Intuitive and seamless integration is always a benefit for smart devices, and Wi-R seems to be able to provide just that.