Near field communication, a.k.a. NFC, is at a turning point. Excitement for wearable technology is at an all-time high with the launch of hotly anticipated products in recent months. Few, however, have proven practical for the everyday use. NFC is the gateway technology to more practical wearable products by providing one simple solution: information exchange. A few weeks ago, I hosted a webinar called The Power of a Ring to demonstrate how wearable technology and NFC are making everything from completing payments to unlocking our doors more convenient.
Functional NFC technology is only possible if more engineers and hackers are comfortable implementing it in their designs. An understanding of today’s NFC trends and international design standards, as well as of the resources available for all experience levels, are a must to eliminating barriers to entry. The design possibilities for NFC are limited only by the ideas of the engineer working with it.
The NFC ring.
My own inspiration for the NFC ring came after a friend misplaced his keys and locked himself out of his house. The resulting design was one NTAG203 chip on the inside of a sleek metal band for personal data and a second NTAG203 chip positioned on the outer side of the band for public data. Since then, the NFC ring has become a substitute for business cards and house keys around the world.
The NFC ring was created entirely on open source. We wanted third parties to adopt the ring and consider making their own NFC-ready devices. Raspberry Pi and Arduino both have NFC modules available that work great with the ring. Sharing is a big part of NFC’s core functionality. That’s where we’re seeing the best applications of this technology.
We already know NFC is being used in the payments space. Ironically, it’s the more nontraditional applications of NFC that are making wearable technology practical for everyday use.
First responders and health professionals are looking for ways to leverage NFC jewelry to quickly identify and obtain information from patients in emergency situations. The UK’s National Health Service is working with our team to develop a system for dementia patients to find their way home.
Advertisers are designing billboards that are NFC-compatible. Imagine walking up to a poster for a shoe store or movie theater and receiving recommendations based on the personal profile housed on your NFC device?
Teachers managing oversize classes will find the challenge a little easier when they use NFC apps to scan textbooks and track their students’ progress. In any situation that benefits when data is stored and shared both easily and efficiently, NFC is a fit. For that reason, there’s little in the way of hackers looking to get started with NFC design.
When designing NFC-based devices, certain design standards need to be met to ensure that all forms of NFC can interact with existing and future devices. ISO/IEC 18000-3 is the type of RFID communication used by NFC devices. It’s an international standard for wireless communication at frequencies of 13.56 MHz on Type A and B cards. ISO/IEC 14443 allows the ID cards used to store information in NFC tags.
Technical specifics aside, the NFC devices must be within 4 cm of each other to transmit information. The interrogating device, functioning at full duplex, sends a signal to and powers the NFC tag, which operates at half duplex. This is how the device is powered without a battery, like the NFC ring. PJM, or phase jitter modulation, transmits commands that are answered by the tag by sending charges through its coil. Most NFC shields come with tags, so it’s the quickest way for those familiar with prototyping platforms like BeagleBone Black and Arduino to implement successful designs.
John McLear is the founder of Primary Technology and the Etherpad Foundation, and inventor of the NFC Ring. He has a background in software engineering and education. John is based in Bradford, UK.