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 Has its Finger on the Pulse

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 08, 2010 @ 02:00 PM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Smartphones

Tracking Body Movements for a Picture of Health

Wireless StethoscopeI just read an article about how smartphones will soon replace the stethoscope. The goal of using more connected wireless devices in healthcare?  To keep more of us healthy and out of the hospital – OK by me. 

A similar idea is to use technology to monitor body movement. When you have an annual physical or see a doctor for something specific like weight loss, they have to rely on your answers to track your physical activity. They usually ask questions like: Are you active? How many times a week do you exercise? How far do you walk? We’ve all been in the patient’s shoes before and we know how easy it is to embellish a little, not just to satisfy the doctor, but so we can somehow make it come true by saying so.

Doctors can try to have the patients wear a small pedometer when going about their daily routine, but that only provides a one dimensional measurement that cannot satisfy the need for a full picture of activity. Pedometers can’t monitor smaller body movements, or the position of the body, which could offer more information about a person’s health and well being; like noting the difference between sitting in a chair and sitting on an exercise ball that forces you to engage your torso muscles.  

In an effort to get around this roadblock, researchers at Michigan State University developed a system using three RFID tags that are affixed to a person's upper arm, wrist and ankle. The tags contain proximity sensors and accelerometers, which allow the software to calculate the exact amount of movement and angle of a person's limbs. Each tag comes with an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) 900 MHz EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay and a battery to transmit information. By pinpointing the tags’ locations in relationship to each other, as well as noting the changing angles and the number of movements, the doctor can derive a much better picture of the patient’s health because he knows the amount of energy being expended during certain intervals.

The data that is captured can then be linked to the patient's ID number and stored for tracking and management purposes. So, if you’re seeing a doctor for weight management or a physical therapist for an injury, they can compare and contrast the data from one office visit to the next. For a big picture, they can put that data up against other health measurements such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and BMI (body mass index) to make sound prognoses and more customized counsel. Nutritionists and personal trainers can also use that energy data to better customize their services.

While the research hasn’t turned into a mainstream product yet, the potential for reducing health care costs seems fairly apparent. Fewer people getting hurt just by going to the gym and trying something new, fewer illnesses resulting from obesity, fewer medications needed to help the heart do its job…you get the picture.

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