RFID at CES 2013 – NFC Dominates, but UHF Wins My Personal Best-in-Show

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 10:17 AM

CES 2013I was walking the halls of CES 2013 last week searching for RFID applications and trying to cut through the noise of an overwhelming number of low-tech offerings: just about every second booth at the event was showing iPhone cases, adding up to probably at least one case for every iPhone user on the planet. Just in case there wasn’t any case to your liking, MakerBot is offering a desktop 3D printer to print your very own personalized case. NFC was a distant second, but still a highly noticeable ‘technology’ at the show.

LG is putting NFC tags into anyone of its new 2013 appliances. Initially homeowners connect to their new appliances with their smart phones using NFC. After the pairing, the smart phone can be used to control the appliance and get a remote status update over the Internet.

Sony shows how to pair a personal smart phone with an external speaker system: just tap the phone, and the music magically starts playing through the wireless speaker system, courtesy of NFC and Bluetooth - no wires and no tedious pairing procedure.

Samsung, in collaborations with Cesar entertainment, has installed in excess of 4,500 NFC-enabled so-called TecTiles all over Las Vegas. Visitors who scan a tile with their Samsung phone get access to general information about an attraction, watch tutorials on table games and slot machines, buy show tickets, or make dinner reservations at a nearby restaurants. If you ask me, all of this could be done with a simple QR code, but that wouldn’t be nearly as cool…

Incipio introduced an iPhone case with integrated NFC reader, capitalizing on Apple’s hesitation to integrate NFC in iOS devices…. but wait, am I rambling about smart phone cases again?

No question, NFC has reached a tipping point and is making its way into the kitchen, the living room, entertainment applications, and payment systems - in short pretty much all the applications it was meant to cover and then some. However, an easily overlooked little demonstration using UHF RFID - in my humble opinion - will in time have an equally important impact on the consumer electronics industry: NXP showed their I2C-RFID chip at work inside a tablet computer. In the demo, a retailer – online or brick-and-mortar - configures and customizes the tablet as a gift for a particular user at the point of sale. At check-out, relevant information is downloaded wirelessly into the I2C memory of the tablet: name and relation of the recipient of the gift, let’s say it’s your mom; access credentials of your mom’s home WiFi router, a gift card for X dollars of e-book downloads. As your mom opens the package and turns the tablet on for the first time, she is greeted by a full-screen Happy Birthday card signed by you. Next she is taken to the online store to select a book of her liking in exchange for the gift card. Each time she uses the tablet, the desktop image reminds her of you and the happy occasion of the gift.

I say, that is progress over the conventional way of introducing your parents to digital gadgetry - remember those agonizing phone calls trying to get their new PC online? I have written about how it works in detail here: Five-Cent Wireless Networking – The Most Important Invention in RFID Yet. Remarkably, NXP is able to show read-ranges in excess of ten feet by using the metal housing of the tablet as RFID antenna. Apparel retailers have started to put UHF POS readers and anti-theft gates into stores. I predict that electronics retailers will follow with similar programs shortly. In addition to using embedded RFID for shrinkage-prevention and logistics, Electronics retailers will be able to offer value-added applications for the consumer.

ThingMagic had a significant presence at CES as part of Alcatel-Lucent’s ng Connect program. Together with a number of other technology providers we designed the Connected Services Vehicle (CSV). Among other features, the CSV leverages UHF RFID for real-time asset and tool management on a services vehicle. If you want to know what the system is about, watch Alcatel-Lucent’s video of their presence at CES.

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, Consumer Goods, NFC

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