Novel NFC Applications

Novel NFC Applications to Enrich Our Connections

The NFC Forum Innovation Awards

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One of the greatest judging experiences I have had the good fortune of being a part of was for the Near-Field Communication (NFC) Forum Innovation Award in its inaugural year [1]. (I was representing the IEEE Council on Radio-Frequency Identification.) The NFC Forum’s (www.nfc-forum.org) mission is to advance the use of NFC technology by developing specifications, ensuring interoperability among devices and services, and educating the market about NFC technology.

The forum’s global member companies are currently developing specifications for a modular NFC device architecture and protocols for interoperable data exchange and device-independent service delivery, device discovery, and device capability. Unsurprisingly, sponsors of the NFC Forum are tech giants like Apple, Broadcom Corporation, Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd., Google, Intel, MasterCard Worldwide, NXP Semiconductors, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony Corporation, STMicroelectronics, and Visa. NFC is being viewed as a key piece of the Internet of Things puzzle. Versatile and easy to implement, estimates are that it will be a US$21.8 billion industry by 2020, on the conservative side [2], with exponential growth expected by 2050 into an industry worth trillions of dollars.

The forum had a large contingent of international entrants for a variety of categories, including “Most Innovative NFC Product, Service, or Implementation,” “Best Mobile App,” and “Best NFC Startup” (see “The NFC Forum Innovation Award Winners by Category”). There were nine judges in all, including Allied Business Intelligence Senior Analyst Phil Sealy, Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) Association Terminals Director Paul Gosden, and The Smart Card Alliance Executive Director Randy Vanderhoof, and we all went through several rounds of judging.

Top honors went to Speech Code’s “Talking Labels,” Khushi Baby’s “Mobile Medical App,” and Dimple’s “Customizable Mobile Button Stickers” at the NFC Forum awards ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 14 March 2017. Entries were judged on their innovation, commercial potential, and usability as well as on the quality of design and implementation. The beauty of this competition from a judge’s eyes was that every entrant was so different in aim and objectives, design, implementation, and final product. In most cases, NFC was being described as a part of a larger process, a single component of a system acting as the key enabler.

There were entrants touting NFC in novel agricultural applications, factory or manufacturing automation, or services driven with consumer information access as the primary goal. Submissions ranged across a broad set of industries from the connected home, smart health, smart consumer, and automotive to Internet of Things, gaming, connected retail, and transportation. In one case study, an entrant pointed to the tens of thousands of end users of its implementation in the transportation industry, demonstrating not only that take-up has been well established but that NFC has been around for longer than people might think. The value in such competitions is that they pull members of the economic knowledge infrastructure closer together toward collaborative opportunities and common standardization that should see an emerging technology with enough support mechanisms to reach its full potential in the market [3].

According to the chair of the NFC Forum, Koichi Tagawa, “In today’s increasingly connected world, NFC offers a tap-based experience that simplifies, enriches, and improves our daily lives. Since it is easy to implement, developers and product designers are turning to NFC to enable the Internet of Things and deliver compelling, personalized user experiences.” This does beg the question whether or not there are any limits to NFC development and deployment.

It is such a versatile technology and integratable to just about anything. I have, though, been the first to question its application in certain market segments, including the financial sector, given the lack of emphasis being applied by the credit card industry at large to security of current tap-and-go solutions plaguing some local merchants. Yet, it is a sign of the times, perhaps, when embeddable NFC in humans for Bitcoin transactions is a legitimate registered entrant in a competition such as this one. We should be ready to witness anything imaginable to the free mind to enter the market. End users seem to like the ease of conducting transactions with NFC, even if they do not fully understand the implications of doing so.

Most Innovative NFC Product, Service or Implementation

The first-place winner in the “Most Innovative NFC Product, Service, or Implementation” category was Speech Code GmbH (Austria) (Figure 1) for its NFC talking labels, which enable up to 30 min of recorded speech in over 40 languages from stickers adhered to signage, food and beverage packaging, and retail products. Using NFC tags to enable speech output, the talking labels make it easy for people with disabilities, retail shoppers, or tourists to use their NFC-enabled phones to get important product information, such as food allergy and nutrition facts, as well as identification information for the visually impaired. This Austria-based company has won a string of past awards and has a vibrant female chief executive officer, Barbara Operschall, who is passionate about the tourism sector.

Figure 1. Speech Code GmbH (Austria) submitted a device that uses NFC tags to enable speech output, making it easy for people with disabilities, retail shoppers, or tourists to use their NFC-enabled phones to get important product information. (Image courtesy of Speech Code and NFC Forum.)

Best Mobile App

The first-place winner in the “Best Mobile App” category was Khushi Baby, Inc. (United States) for its NFC wearable health mobile application, which uses NFC mobile technology to enable health workers in India to interface with infant medical data through an NFC-tag-enabled digital necklace (Figure 2). Unlike paper immunization records that are difficult to maintain and access, clinicians can use NFC-enabled mobile devices and the Khushi Baby, or happy baby, mobile app to read the infant’s wearable necklace, identify which vaccinations are needed, upload the vaccine data into the cloud, and monitor the infant in real time. Modeled after amulet necklaces frequently worn by babies in this region, the waterproof, battery-free, digital necklace is ideal for use in rural communities, using low-power wireless technology for its operation.

It is easy to see how this mobile app might well be implemented for MedicAlert-style bracelets of various types in different kinds of markets. But underlying care applications are always the dominant factor of control. Stringent guidelines must ensure that the data gathered by the wearable device are not used retrospectively in nonmedical contexts. There also need to be regulatory guidelines introduced on how long the device is worn by infants and how the gathered data will be archived and who has access to the information and for how long.

If the Aadhaar multimodal biometric system is anything to judge by, emerging technologies in India are often deployed before the commensurate consumer protections are The beauty of this competition from a judge’s eyes was that every entrant was so different in aim and objectives, design, implementation, and final product. Of course, Khushi Baby has the best interests of children at heart, their care and hope for a better life, supporting health workers in their aims, but it is amazing how scope creep can easily pervade emerging technologies. Placing chips in bracelets or just about any other common fashion item can be a temptation for product developers who see potential for even greater functional applications [4]. Still, I am inspired by how daring Indian innovators are in pushing next-generation cell phone applications out to the public. Having traveled through India several times in the last few years, I have seen the vibrant tech sector, which is definitely thinking outside the box. But I am admittedly cautious with any application of technology that can be used to sort groups of people, independent of age, gender, and market. I would much prefer to see Indian innovators create their own mobile applications for their own communities in the longer term.

Figure 2. The device created by Khushi Baby, Inc. (United States) enables health workers in India to interface with infant medical data through an NFC-tag-enabled digital necklace. (Images courtesy of Khushi Baby, Inc.)

Best NFC Startup

The first-place winner in the “Best NFC Startup” category was Dimple, Inc. (Latvia) for its NFC-tag-based programmable buttons that personalize and streamline a user’s daily tasks (Figure 3). The highly customizable NFC sticker comes with two or four shortcut buttons that can be adhered to the back of an NFC-enabled device. From speed dialing, launching a flashlight, or other most-used apps, to creating an extra play button or controlling smart home controls, Dimple offers endless personalized options using the phone’s own energy. Now, that is innovative stuff!

Let’s try and make next year’s competition even bigger, better, and stronger. I urge more companies to enter into as many categories as they are eligible. Do not rush the process or rehash your ready-made marketing materials, but spend time to address the various NFC Forum criteria. The entrants who were clearly ahead of the game were those that had a fully functional system/app with real end users and could convey the social benefits with tangible evidence. I was personally struck by the effort of startups to get going in this growing market. Many hundreds of hours of energy were exerted, and the passion came through. Keep up the great work, and remember to remain customer focused. The returns will follow with time. Congratulations to all those who participated in the competition.

References

1. NFC industry customer experience and product design leaders share 2017 outlook and predictions on NFC technology, Dec. 2016, [online] Available: http://nfc-forum.org/nfc-industry-customer-experience-and-product-design-leaders-share-2017-outlook-and-predictions-on-nfc-technology/.

2. Near field communication market worth 21.84 billion USD by 2020, Mar. 2017, [online] Available: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/near-field-communication.asp.

3. K. Michael, M. G. Michael, Innovative Automatic Identification and Location-Based Services: From Bar Codes to Chip Implants, Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009.
 
4. Back to Undithal Khushi Baby, July 2014, [online] Available: http://khushi-baby.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/back-to-undithal.html.

Keywords

Awards, Mobile communication, Speech coding, Technological innovation

Citation: Katina Michael, "Novel NFC Applications to Enrich Our Connections", IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, July, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 118-121, 2017.

Gamifying precision-guided firearms

Gamifying precision-guided firearms: Bugs and daffy wouldn't stand a chance

If you were born before 1985, then there is a good chance you watched Looney Tunes on a Saturday morning and followed the exploits of the Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck hunting episodes with anticipation but no element of surprise. Poor old Daffy Duck, at times disguised as a rabbit, just couldn't outwit Bugs during rabbit season! And Elmer Fudd was one of those hunters you felt sorry for—a thousand shots fired, some on target, but he never really could finish off his rival.

When the crosshairs in the heads-up display are centered on the tagged target, a squeeze of the trigger will deliver a TrackingPoint proprietary round with great precision.
A modern-day remake of an Elmer Fudd cartoon might feature a precision-guided firearm, such as those in the TrackingPoint XactSystem series [1], making Fudd's rifle in Looney Tunes look like something out of ancient history. The modern cartoon might also be a little boring, with a short and predictable ending: shoot to kill the rabbit, and that's it—dead. There would be no great chase necessary, no teasing the target animal out. Daffy would be annihilated with pin-point accuracy the first time he came into Fudd's field of view.

The Rifle

The three TrackingPoint bolt-action rifles released in 2013 at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were developed with sport in mind rather than combat or law enforcement. The rifles (Figure 1) contain a computerized and networked tracking scope and nonvolatile storage space to record everything seen with the optics. Looking through the scope presents the shooter with a computerized heads-up display (HUD) that is similar to the sort you might find in a first-person-shooter video game. There is also the ability to “tag” a target, which is then tracked by the rifle's built-in software. When the crosshairs in the HUD (Figure 2) are centered on the tagged target, a squeeze of the trigger will deliver a proprietary TrackingPoint round with great precision.

Figure 1. A TrackingPoint precision-guided firearm. (Photo courtesy of Oren Schauble.)

Figure 2. A screenshot from the HUD of a TrackingPoint precision-guided firearm. (Photo courtesy of Oren Schauble.)

The TrackingPoint rifles have a Wi-Fi server on board, allowing them to be paired up with an external iOS device. In this way, an iPad app can mirror the rifle's HUD, allowing a spotter to assist with shots while looking at a bigger screen. TrackingPoint has a guided trigger, ballistic calculator, tracking engine, and integral laser range finder, with the ability to hit a target from about 900 m away.

Game Hunting, or Hunting Game?

With the addition of a computerized HUD and the ability to mirror the view from the rifle's optics on an iPad, hunting game is becoming ever more like a hunting video game. As one SIMHQ forum user wrote: “Might as well mount [a TrackingPoint rifle] on a drone and go nail Bambi from hundreds of miles away without the horrible inconvenience of all that going outside!” [2]

The similarities with video games continue with the ability to upload photos and videos of your kill, captured by the rifle to share with members of your social networks—a feature found in many current video games [3]. It's not hard to imagine a hunting-game craze with repercussions not only in the virtual world but in the physical. We could also point to the potential for cruelty to animals. Users might feel compelled to create an interesting clip that could go viral, and a single clean shot might look somewhat uninteresting to everyday YouTube viewers (despite the fact that hunters boast of quick kills). Using a TrackingPoint rifle is about more than sport. Hunting has been gamified.

There is nothing to stop these kinds of “sports” from becoming even more successful than the online games played by South Koreans and watched by more than a million people on television [4]. Because a living thing has been killed, we are creating our own reality-show-style scenes that are glorifying the kill. This cannot be healthy. Would we take a camera into a slaughterhouse and film the actual end-to-end process and put it on the Internet for comments or even “likes”?

Virtual and Real-World Hunting

TrackingPoint has a guided trigger, ballistic calculator, tracking engine, and integral laser range finder, with the ability to hit a target from about 900 m away.
The TrackingPoint rifles seem to create a game-like experience reminiscent of real-world, location-based, role-playing games (RPGs) where one fights virtual monsters with real-world personas in a given neighborhood. In 2011, YD Online [5], a Korean mobile gaming company, launched GEO Hunters [6], a location-based iPhone RPG app that sets gamers to fight monsters in their vicinity. What's of particular interest is that special “hidden monsters” appear based on current world news. The CEO of YD Online, Dr. Hyun Oh Yoo, believes the influence of real-life elements makes the game “even more relevant and engaging.” Yoo added, “Location-based technology has revolutionized game mechanics, and GEO Hunters takes this type of experience one step further by using Google Maps to create a fun, addictive gaming environment…We wanted to create a mobile game that combines actual geography with fantasy, while creating a community of engaged competitive players.”

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My fear is that the line between violence in the real world and virtual world is starting to blur because of the location-based element that fixes monsters (as well as yourself and other gamers) to a physical location on the Earth's surface. Your feet might be touching the ground, but your head is in a virtual world as you move around trying to capture, tame, feed, and build your own army to protect the world. I can envisage people feeling trapped by virtual monsters surrounding them and not knowing which way to turn to maintain their position in the game. The longer you are in the game, the higher the stakes, after all. So despite knowing it is just a game, a gamer might accidentally step into traffic in the physical world to avoid capture in the overlapping virtual world, risking—at best—serious injury. Gamers may also become suspicious of people around them and fear the close-up tap on the shoulder that means “game over.” The separation between the part of the game conducted virtually and the part of the game relevant to a physical location begins to melt away.

Implications

With modern-day rifles like those in the TrackingPoint series, real-world violence (such as shooting at game) is being presented as it might be in a video game. It could be easy to dismiss the impact of the death of the target animal as something less significant if you're watching that death through an HUD or on an iPad. While there is much research still to be done in this area, it surely warrants concern. No doubt, we will have to rethink what it means to pull the trigger in the future—someone who selects a graphic on an iPad app might well plead that he or she were simply engaged in a game that went too far.

All of this comes even before augmented reality hits the mainstream gaming scene. Users might recant that it “felt like they were taking a photograph” or “they were just playing an iPhone app” and that they weren't actually holding a gun when the round was fired. We may be raising a generation of gamers who are good at real-world hunting, but we might also be raising gamers that won't know the difference between virtual and real shooting [7], [8].

I wonder if the TrackingPoint rifles come with a sophisticated security system—no one seems to have mentioned this just yet. What might happen if one was able to take control of someone's weapon wirelessly?

Thankfully, at about US$17,000, these precision-guided firearms don't come cheap. The price tag minimizes the risk that the guns will be seen as children's toys for creative play. That said, there's now an iOS app that allows kids to fire virtual NERF guns in an augmented-reality game that looks a lot like TrackingPoint.

Yes, TrackingPoint guns promise exciting technology, but, as a Looney Tunes character might put it, “That's not all, folks!”

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This article was adapted from Katina Michael, “TrackingPoint Bolt-Action Rifles Are Game-Changers, Not a Game,” The Conversation, February 2013, https://theconversation.com/trackingpoint-bolt-action-rifles-are-game-changers-not-a-game-11592.

Keywords: Games, Target tracking, Weapons, Tablet computers, Computer bugs, weapons, computer games, precision-guided firearms, TrackingPoint XactSystem series, Daffy Duck hunting episodes, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Looney Tunes

Citation:  Katina Michael, 2016, IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, 5(1), Jan. 2016, pp. 99 - 101.