Students explore NFC's potential in search for wireless technology's killer app

Teams of students at UTS's third Launchpad event designed use cases for Near Field Communications technology in smartphones

Students at the University of Technology, Sydney this week showcased ideas for using the short-range Near Field Communications (NFC) wireless technology present in many of the current generation of smartphones.

The UTS 'Launchpad' event represented the culmination of a semester's work by students, and involved five inter-disciplinary teams from backgrounds including IT, business and design designing NFC-based solutions in domains including retail and healthcare, aged care.

Some 18 students examined potential applications for use of NFC technology. The event was run by UTS's u.lab in partnership with NFC-focussed Australian company Commerce in Motion. "[Commerce in Motion is ] looking for some slightly more out-of-the-box ideas of what to do with NFC rather than maybe the run-of-the-mill ideas that people usually come up with," said UTS's Dr Wayne Brookes, who co-founded u.lab.

One team developed an NFC-based solution that attempted to find a way of engaging children in physical activity by employing the wireless technology in combination with gamification-like principles. "They came up with the idea of creating a virtual playground where you put NFC tags around a particular area and the kids have an NFC-enabled mobile phone, and the kids will have to physically run from point to point to progress in the game," Brookes said.

"The interesting thing about the proposal was that the team saw that if you were to install these kinds of NFC tags around an environment using it for children and games, you could easily use it for adults who were wanting to come up with a different sort of exercise regime. [Or] you could use the infrastructure when you could have an event and people come to it and tap their phone at the destination. So it's kind of like a gathering place for people if you wanted to organise an event in a park, for example.

Another team looked at the potential for using NFC for easily tracking patients' within a hospital, offering the staff of healthcare institutions the ability to track a patient's movements in real-time. Another looked at the feasibility of using NFC to create "stores without borders". "Their idea was if products people buy were already NFC-enabled in theory you could just be anywhere in the world and you see a product that you're interested in and you tap your phone and you can then go through an ordering process on your phone," Brookes said. The retail team also looked at using NFC to hail taxis at taxi ranks, by tapping with your phone.

NFC "needs to find its niche", he said. "One of the things our student teams struggled with was what can you do with an NFC tag that you can't already do with a QR code or with RFID or with something else? What is NFC uniquely good for? There are examples of that — obviously location-based applications and services; the convenience (people often don't use QR codes because of the difficulty of getting your phone out and finding the right app and scanning it.

"I think it's about finding the niche of applications, finding the killer application for NFC where NFC is the ideal technology as opposed to using something else."

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Tags smartphonesNear Field Communications

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