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December 14, 2020

Transferring data through your fingertip

A new technology would let your body act as the link between your card or smartphone and the reader or scanner, making it possible for you to transmit information just by touching a surface. The work was done by engineers at Purdue University, with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Credit: Karson Productions/National Science Foundation

Sense of touch.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from NSF -- the U.S. National Science Foundation.

By developing a new, more secure method of transferring data through human touch, might say Purdue University researchers have their fingers on the pulse, sorry. First, what it's not. It's not like a biometric fingerprint reader. Nor is it like some wearables that rely on typical Bluetooth radiating in a hackable 30-foot radius around you.

Instead, it's the first technology that can send any information through the direct touch of a fingertip.

Sounds wild, but it starts with a smartwatch or card, or a wearable medical device or a phone in your pocket. Next, it turns your body into sort of a "mini private internet," sending digital signals that go only through you. Your data stays secure and is transferred only when you directly touch a surface: A reader or scanner, or a sensor on a laptop.

Although not yet fully developed for money transfers, (Sound effect: cash register) this technology developed with NSF support could work in some 'touchy' real-world situations: Making payments without taking out cards or scanning phones. Unlocking a car without a Bluetooth signal from a key fob. (Sound effect: remote key fob) It could even bring nifty touches to touchscreen applications.

And probably a bunch more I can't put my finger on.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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