NEW ORLEANS--When Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg used his Consumer Electronics Show keynote to demonstrate the company's Connected Me concept, which turns the human body into a bridge between gadgets, he was met with lackluster applause.
Part of the problem was the audience didn't fully grasp what Vestberg was trying to show. He was on stage holding a smartphone in one hand and the sensor for an audio system in the other. The data signal shot through his body, playing an MP3 from the phone on the speaker system. In effect, he became a replacement for a USB cord or Bluetooth connection.
People watching the presentation, however, were underwhelmed. The company showed it off at its giant booth at Mobile World Congress, and again this week at the CTIA Wireless show, where it largely went unnoticed.
But the project has fairly wide applications beyond turning a person into a human stereo system. People can shake hands and exchange digital business cards. Or you can tap your printer and have print out your document. Surprisingly, Ericsson is bullish about the technology, and Chief Marketing Officer Arun Bhikshesvaran believes it could go commercial as soon as next year.
Connected Me is just one of many projects that Ericsson has fostered over the years. It has been on a campaign to re-brand itself as more than just a supplier of telecommunications and wireless equipment. From its work with developers to its various media content services, the company has tried to establish itself as a cutting-edge company on par with any on Silicon Valley.
"Base stations are what people know of Ericsson," Bhikshesvaran said. "But at the end of the day, we're all about connecting people."
Connected Me evolved out of another project that was shown off at CES -- the tweeting tree. Ericsson wired up a tree with radio gear and proximity sensors and set it up to tweet messages about the weather or its "mood," depending in part on whether anyone was touching it or even just standing nearby.
That ability to sense people was the basis for the idea of transferring data through a human body. Since human bodies consist largely of water, there's enough conductive material to act as a conduit. An Ericsson representative said the process transmits less electricity than the human body already holds.
The company is looking at different applications. Bhikshesvaran said the company was exploring the notion that it could end up being a new biometric footprint, since bodies all possess a unique energy signature. The company hasn't quite figured that one out yet.
Or, he added, the technology could be paired with a fingerprint reader: tap the screen with your finger to confirm identification, and have the data shot through your body to your phone.
It sounds far-fetched, but Connected Me could come to you sooner than you think. With the proof of concept already out, Ericsson is talking to a number of potential equipment makers about getting this technology into their devices, Bhikshesvaran said. Initially, the company is looking at the smartphone, PC, television, and printer industries as logical adopters.
While there's interest, Bhikshesvaran wouldn't comment on whether any companies have committed to the technology. Overall, it could take 12 to 18 months to get a product out.
Ericsson, meanwhile, benefits from the potential to license the technology, sell more equipment, generate traffic, and gets the company closer to its vision of the "connected society."
It could also mean one less cord for you to carry around.