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

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, Consumer Goods, NFC

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.

What if RFID was Never Invented? A ThingMagic Top Ten

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jan 09, 2012 @ 11:39 AM

Tags: RFID, GPS, Embedded RFID, NFC

Top 10You know you are in the height of the political season when you turn on the Late Show with David Letterman and see all of the candidates lining up to give their top 10 lists.  While these attempts to connect with the American people normally fall flat, it did get us thinking about our own Letterman style top ten and what fun and interesting uses of the technology we’d present if given the opportunity to visit the show.

So without further delay, we present to you our Top Ten things to consider if RFID had never been invented:

10. The lines would be a lot longer during our coffee runs: Cup o’ Joe to Go

9.  All of the crazy story lines in crime dramas might actually happen: RFID and The CSI Effect

8.  We couldn’t install “LoJack” in our cactuses: Cactus Chips

7.  We’d all be subject to search and seizure at border crossings: RFID for Border Security

6.  It would mean counting bees the old fashioned way: RFID for Counting Bees. Really?

5.  Fox could theoretically run ‘Prison Break’ forever: RFID Put Behind Bars

4.  The “Where’s Waldo” effect would run rampant in salvage yards: The New Junkyard Dog

3.  There would be a lot more false pulls in the milking business: Milkin’ It with RFID

2.  Really bad golf would still be in play this season: Find It, Play It – With RFID

And the number one consideration if RFID had never been invented is…

1. Unauthorized use of electroshock weapons would surely climb: Don’t Lose Your Taser Bro

Maybe we’ll never get the chance to join Dave on the show, but hopefully we’ve given you a few interesting thoughts about the impact RFID continues to have on all walks of life.

For more, check out our ever popular list of 100 Uses of RFID!

Image source: Transition Culture

What's In Your (Google) Wallet?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 @ 11:36 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Google, NFC

Google WalletGoogle Wallet has drawn a lot of attention to the act of making purchases with the tap of a smart phone. It’s considered the first NFC mobile wallet system that, with the SingleTap feature, conducts the transaction, redeems coupon offers and earns loyalty points, all in one step. Visa has said that their payWave system will work with Google Wallet and American Eagle Outfitters, Macy’s, Toys“R”Us and Jamba Juice have stated that they will accept Google’s SingleTap payment in some of their locations.

Using smart phones as wallets is not a new concept, but momentum seems to be growing. In fact just a few weeks ago, Intel and MasterCard announced their alliance to offer a better experience for online shopping. Part of their aim is to provide a safer and simpler checkout process for consumers using devices. If the number of smart phone options and support from financial institutions are any indication, this form of RFID will soon become an integral part of the consumer experience – potentially transforming the retail market.

It will be interesting to see if some shoppers lose control of their spending because of the ease of tapping a phone instead of being forced to take cash out of their wallets or signing a credit card slip. It may be those extra motions that make consumers think twice about whether or not they really need to buy that item.

Is it only a matter of time before we’re all buying our groceries, clothes and gas with digital dollars?  Will there come a day when future generations don’t know what paper money is and goods are purchased thought the exchange of virtual credits?

I’ve bought into the convergence of my phone, MP3 player, rolodex, newspaper, video game system, calendar, camera, and much more, into a single device that I carry in my pocket, but for now I’m sticking to the good ol’ American dollar, bread, buck, clam, dough, frogskins, greenbacks, loot, bones, coin, folding stuff, moolah, spondoolies, wonga…

Angry Birds (and RFID) Coming Soon - Everywhere

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jun 14, 2011 @ 01:42 PM

Tags: RFID, Internet of Things, GPS, NFC

Angry Birds MagicReally?  Did I just read that the maker of one of my favorite mobile games, Angry Birds, is going to be connecting the virtual world of slingshot flung bids and grunting pig heads with the physical world by using near field communications (NFC) and GPS?

Yup – as reported by ReadWiteWeb, Rovio (the Angry Birds game maker) will be making this announcement at the ReadWriteWeb 2WAY Summit taking place this week in New York City.

According to the article, game players with NFC-enabled phones will be able to unlock new levels and special birds by taping their mobile devices together or on NFC-enabled tags placed on merchandise like toys, books, or presumably just about anything. Taking the virtual-physical world connection a step further, when played in certain locations – that “make sense for the birds and the brand” - you will be able to access new location-specific features. Rivio also plans to offer a GPS-enabled version for those without NFC-enabled phones. 

This isn’t quite where I thought RFID and GPS would converge to reach thousands if not millions of consumers, but I guess you’ve got to start somewhere!

You’ve got to like the name too.  Known as Angry Birds Magic, the branding for Rivio's internet of things platform follows our affinity for adding magic to everyday things.

Angry Birds fan or not, share your thoughts on the convergence of auto-id technologies and the virtural world.  Where do we go from here?!

The Next Big Step Toward a Multi-Scale Wireless World

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Dec 06, 2010 @ 01:35 PM

Tags: RFID, Connected Devices, Consumer Goods, NFC, Smartphones

Will Consumer Use of NFC Drive Widespread RFID Adoption?

NFCA number of recently published editorial pieces and analyst reports have covered the growing belief that Near Field Communications (NFC) - a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology - may deliver the next big step toward consumer adoption of RFID technology and related applications and services.  What’s driving this belief?  Well, primarily interest from mobile device makers (think high-volume), communications companies (think global networks) and banks (think simplified transactions).  And with this combination of technology, product and financial service providers coming together, you can bet that something is brewing.

NFC for Mobile Commerce

It’s been reported that several major handset makers will begin shipping NFC-enabled smart phones beginning in 2011.  With contactless payment (credit/debit card emulation) projected to be one of the primary uses of NFC in mobile devices, several banks and financial service providers are beginning to take steps to prepare their payment infrastructures. For example, Bank of America launched a retail pilot earlier this year and Visa piloted a program to allow commuters in New York to use their mobile devices to pay for train and bus fares.

Consider further, the power of your mobile phone acting as your wallet without requiring you to purchase any new products or change your behavior. That’s what Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA envisioned when they formed ISIS. They’re calling it a “mobile wallet”, positioned to replace cash, credit/debit cards, reward cards, coupons, event tickets and even bus passes.  These three telcos plan to initially partner with Discover Financial Services and Barclaycard US to deliver contactless payments services.

Sounds to me like the necessary pieces of the infrastructure puzzle and some interesting applications are starting to fall into place.

The Promise of NFC

In addition to mobile commerce, other innovative applications using NFC may include interactive advertising, electronic ticketing, electronic access (cars, homes, offices, etc) and the ability for multiple NFC-enabled devices in close proximity to each other to exchange information – in a machine-to-machine (M2M) or peer-to-peer (P2P) mode.  Social networks will also play a role by providing platforms for individuals to share information generated with and by their mobile devices to a massive worldwide audience, in real time.

Take for example Nokia’s next generation phone app - Nokia Situations – designed to transform the smart phone to a “thinking” phone capable of sensing the situation one is in based on time, day, location and available networks.  Consider a phone that could sense your location via RFID, switch into “shopping mode” and then allow you to interact with the retail environment to enhance your shopping experience and your social network to communicate your brand preferences to a global audience.  Of course with all of this innovation, security and data privacy must be a primary focus.  Building in the ability for a mobile device user to go incognito one day and be a marketer’s dream the next could go a long way in terms of consumer adoption.

And it’s not just for retailers. A Mashable blog lists other ways NFC can be put to good use, including improving treatment and research in healthcare, a variety of transportation related uses and the introduction of thousands - if not millions - of new smart objects.

With NFC-enabled handhelds hitting the market soon, could this be the next major industry milestone that drives the widespread adoption of RFID-enabled applications and a true multi-scale wireless world?

RFID Replaces Ouija Boards, Witchcraft and Séances

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 @ 08:29 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, NFC

Lets the Dead Speak from Beyond the Grave

GravestoneThis Halloween talking to the dead may be easier than you think.  Before you get too spooked, you can forget the hocus pocus, witchcraft and voodoo techniques they use in the movies. No need for séances, full moons, candles or sacrifices; all you need is RFID.

Objecs LLC, an Arizona information-exchange company specializing in the sharing of digital information between individuals and objects, came up with the idea to place RFID into a stone tablet called a RosettaStone. The RosettaStone is embedded with a passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tag. An ID number is engraved on the stone as well as coded in the tag. This ID number is linked to a database where a picture and up to 1,000 words of information on the deceased is stored.

This information can be accessed by anyone who has an NFC-enabled smartphone. When the phone is tapped near the tablet, the information appears on the phone’s screen. It can also be accessed by entering the ID number into the RossettaStone website. The information is not only stored on the RosettaStone server, but also on the Physical World Database Project server, so the information will still be accessible even if Objecs is no longer around.

In addition to the ID number, the RosettaStone itself is engraved with symbols that represent milestones in that person’s life. The tablet can be taken home by the family as a keepsake or it can be attached to the headstone so anyone in the cemetery who wishes can learn more about the deceased.

1,000 words and a picture seem like just the beginning. Why stop there? As Curtis Hopkins points out in his ReadWriteWeb article, in the future perhaps we will see videos added or allow people to record their memories with the deceased.

So remember, when you are walking through the cemetery this Halloween, if you get a message from the dead on your smartphone, it might be a ghost – a Ghost In The Machine, that is!

Ghost in the Machine

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 28, 2010 @ 01:44 PM

Tags: RFID, NFC, Product Design

RFID and the "Magic" of Nearness

Touch Ghost IconIn the introductory post of our 100 Uses of RFID program, we discussed the fact that there are a growing number of innovative solutions where users and consumers can interact naturally with RFID and Sensor technology and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears into its environment.  This is also a primary theme of a blog post recently published by Touch - a research project that investigates Near Field Communication (NFC) and RFID technologies.

Using probes with LEDs that flash when an RFID tag is passed by a near-field reader, Touch conducted research to explore the visual and special aspects of RFID.  Capturing the path of the LED with long exposure photography and animation, Touch produced a compelling video that displays how the two objects are communicating with each other through the ‘magic’ of radio waves - creating an interesting ghost-like image!

Immaterials: the ghost in the field from timo on Vimeo.

Given that many aspects of RFID are fundamentally "invisible", Touch conducted their study to help them better understand the interactions that can be created with RFID and the ways it can be used inside products.  As they eloquently point out:

“…invisibility also offers opportunities: the lack of touch is an enormous usability and efficiency leap for many systems we interact with everyday (hence the success of Oyster, Suica and Octopus cards). But there is also the ‘magic’ of nearness one of the most compelling experiential aspects of RFID.”

Touch’s experiments were conducted to flesh out their own spatial and gestural models in part to help them understand the readable volume of RFID for the design of products like Sniff – an interactive child’s toy - Skål – a tabletop media player.

What experiments have you conducted to support the development of your RFID, NFC or Sensor-based products?  Feel free to share them with us and we’ll highlight them in a future 100 Uses of RFID post.

The RFID icon above is based on the shape of the "readable volume" within an RFID radio field. Created by Timo Arnall & Jack Schulze, it is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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