According to data from ‘The Ericsson Mobility Report’, the deployment of 5G networks will be complete globally by the end of 2027. A long way to go. Although there is already talk of a sixth generation where humans are used as an antenna to optimize 6G coverage, speed, and latency.
Humans as an antenna to improve 6G networks?
That’s how it is. But more than an antenna, we would be a fundamental component of a large portable antenna, designed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, to collect residual energy from Visible Light Communication (VLC), a communication technology that, at large features, it transmits information through flashes of LED light (a wireless version of fiber optics), does not cause interference in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum and will be key to the deployment of sixth generation networks that will exceed the characteristics of speed, latency, and 5G coverage.
The large antenna would be made up of a small copper bracelet, valued at 50 cents by its developers, and the human body would be the carrier, thus playing a fundamental role in wireless data transmission based on VLC communication technology.
Where did the idea of using humans come from?
In the VLC transmission process, in addition to visible light, RF energy is passively emitted, which is mostly wasted in the ambient environment.
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst developed an in-depth study on the behavior of this energy and the influence of different materials to collect it, including the human body.
The main result of the research was that the human body, together with a light, cheap and easy-to-use bracelet, called Bracelet+, represents the best alternative to collect these RF energy leaks and generate power 10 times higher than that of a conventional coil antenna, with the plus that it is not necessary to modify the VLC transmitter and it does not cause any blockage or interference in communication between devices.
According to the study, this would be the first prototype to efficiently collect leaked RF energy in VLC transmission systems. For now, it has the potential to power ultra-low power sensors, such as temperature and glucose ones. But its development would be key in the immediate future, dependent on multiple and diverse physical objects with an Internet connection.
Why humans and not something else?
The energy collected by the coil antenna increases when some permeable surrounding object is in contact with it since it has the capacity to absorb the RF energy leaked to the ambient environment. After trying various alternatives, none was as effective as the human body, especially fingers, wrists, waist, thighs, and ankles. This is because many of its tissues are dielectric materials.
In addition, there are two additional advantages:
Size – RF energy harvesting grows in proportion to the size of the object, and the human body is of considerable size. In addition, it does not have to be designed or manufactured, making its application in the real world very simple.
Human omnipresence – For the deployment of an RF energy harvesting system in the real world, it was essential that the surrounding object be omnipresent in everyday life. People are there, everywhere, and they can move anywhere.
Does using people as an antenna for the 6G network has health risks?
The researchers state in the study’s conclusions that energy harvesting with this bracelet does not cause problems for human health. The maximum instantaneous power density filtered by VLC by this device is around 0.01 mW / cm², well below the thresholds established by the Federal Communications Commission and the North American Food and Drug Administration, that is, 0.2 mW / cm² and 10mW/cm².
An easy to wear the bracelet
Taking the above findings into account, the researchers were now challenged to create an antenna coil that, together with the human body, can enhance radio frequency-based energy harvesting systems. The best option, after several tests, was the Bracelet+, a lightweight design that anyone can wear without a problem. Besides:
• It does not incorporate a ferrite core.
• Does not affect VLC data transmission or light illumination.
• It allows more received RF energy to be absorbed instead of reflected, using a mechanism that matches the resonant frequencies between the energy harvester and the VLC transmitter.
In the end, the bracelet and the human body create a large antenna, very effective, because part of the RF energy that reaches the Bracelet+ antenna is absorbed, while the other is reflected. Waste is minimal , and could be the key to optimizing the internet of the future.
This is just an early prototype. The coil can be styled like a ring or any other gadget, including clothing, to enhance the RF energy harvesting ability. Future developments could have the ability to collect waste energy from all kinds of sources to power future technology, including the sixth generation mobile network.