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RFID News Roundup

NXP's free online antenna-designing tool helps electronics manufacturers embed UHF tags in their products; RFIDdirect intros cold-chain tracking solution with CAEN RFID temperature loggers; Star Systems International announces secure headlamp tags for tolling and AVI applications; French sports retailer rolls out Nedap Retail's RFID-enabled EAS systems to hundreds of stores worldwide; Wooshping partners with GameLayer on NFC-based gamification solutions; Microsoft researchers develop 'acoustic NFC' technology for non-RFID phones.
By Beth Bacheldor

French Sports Retailer Rolls Out Nedap Retail's RFID-enabled EAS Systems to Hundreds of Stores Worldwide
Nedap Retail has announced a contract with a French sports retailer to upgrade its existing RF-enabled electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems to hybrid EAS-RFID systems. At more than 400 of the retailer's 570-plus stores, Nedap Retail is upgrading existing gates featuring 8.2 MHz RF EAS antennas to include passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2-compliant antennas, as part of the EAS systems located at the stores' front entrances and exits. Nedap Retail has also equipped approximately half of the retailer's new stores with dual EAS-RFID gate antennas, and plans to install the dual technology at any new locations the retailer may open in the future. The French retailer, which declines to be identified—or to identify the exact product categories and/or percentage of goods being tagged—is applying RFID tags to clothing and shoes. The rollout is scheduled to be completed by March 2014. Nedap Retail's RFID-enabled EAS !D (the 8.2 MHz RF EAS version being upgraded is the EAS !Fast) consists of a product portfolio with floor-mounted, ceiling-mounted and point-of-sale (POS) antennas. EAS !D features Advanced Tag Filtering (ATF) technology designed to reduce false alarms and minimize body shielding, according to Nedap Retail. The system provides a reading speed of hundreds of RFID tags and labels per second, the company reports, and includes an online capability that can be monitored around the clock via Nedap Retail's Cube—a Web-based platform that allows retailers to remotely monitor, compare and benchmark store operations. "Using RFID-only or hybrid EAS-RFID antennas at the exit for loss-prevention purposes is a solution that gets more and more attention from retailers as it broadens the business case," says Rob Schuurman, Nedap Retail's managing director. "Both from a time and cost perspective, it simply makes sense to make the EAS system RFID-ready at some point—either before, during or after the introduction of RFID labels in the supply chain. Once a significant percentage of the merchandise is RFID-labeled, you might as well use the same technology for both loss-prevention and inventory-accuracy purposes." Nedap Retail's RFID solutions, which also include RFID-enabled inventory applications, have been installed at other retailers' operations as well. Dutch shoe retailer De Wolky Shop, for example, is tagging all of its shoeboxes with RFID labels, and is utilizing handheld readers to conduct inventory counts for its online and brick-and-mortar stores (see De Wolky Shop Reduces Stock-Outs, Boosts Sales With RFID).

Wooshping Partners With GameLayer on NFC-based Gamification Solutions
Wooshping, a provider of Near Field Communication (NFC) cloud-based customer-engagement solutions, has announced that it is partnering with GameLayer to create and offer to its customers a complete NFC-based gamification solution. Gamification uses game-thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users. The two companies have teamed up to "optimize the interaction between NFC and the gamification logic, to ensure that customers received the great insights into the campaigns they run, and consumers got the most optimal experience," says Rupert Englander, Wooshping's founder and managing director. Formerly called Tagonic (see RFID News Roundup: Tagonic Kicks Off Contest for NFC-Driven Interactive Campaigns), the firm was rebranded as Wooshping in March 2013. The Wooshping platform provides a cloud-based campaign-management platform that customers can use to set up and program campaigns (and tags) virtually and instantly, as well as real-time campaign analytics and reporting showing customers how many interactions a particular campaign has achieved, the type of mobile devices used and other data. The platform also provides non-gamification campaign logic, Englander explains—for example, checking in to Facebook, or directing people to a Web destination. Wooshping also provides customers with standards-based NFC tags (sourced from multiple providers), and will recommend specific tags based on the requirements of a given customer and project. GameLayer is providing the NFC technology and cloud-based platform to enable customized real-world challenges and games, involving a simple tap on an NFC tag. For example, the two companies explain, a music festival could offer a challenge for visitors to find and unlock all artists performing on a particular day or stage, and then to enter a competition to meet the headlining act, or perhaps hidden codes providing access to VIP areas. Or a local tourist trail could utilize the platform to provide timely and spontaneous commentary and extra information along the trail. Wooshping and GameLayer are "ready to engage with customers on requirements now," Englander states. "Given the custom requirements of customers, we have created example scenarios, but there is no 'off-the-shelf' product." Prior to founding Tagonic, he was employed by Nokia, at which time he worked with the Museum of London to create an NFC application employing NFC RFID tags and NFC-enabled smartphones to provide visitors with additional exhibit information, as well as access to social-networking Web sites and vouchers (see London History Museum Adopts Technology of Future). Wooshping began working on a permanent deployment for the museum after that trial concluded.

Microsoft Researchers Develop 'Acoustic NFC' Technology for non-RFID Phones
Researchers at Microsoft India have developed what they describe as an acoustics-based Near Field Communication (NFC) system—known as Dhwani—that is designed to use the microphone and speakers on a mobile phone to communicate over very short ranges, thus eliminating the need for any specialized NFC RFID hardware or complex network configuration efforts. Those challenges may have attributed to the low levels of penetration of NFC RFID hardware, the researchers report, and Dhwani addresses the challenge of enabling NFC-like capability on the existing base of mobile phones. According to the researchers, experiments using the new system show that Dhwani can achieve data rates of up to 2.4 kilobits per second, which they claim is sufficient for most existing NFC applications. The team's research paper, titled "Dhwani : Secure Peer-to-Peer Acoustic NFC," explains that acoustic communication in Dhwani is confined to a short range (a few centimeters) and so enables the "association by proximity" functionality necessary for such applications as peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers and contactless payments. However, the paper notes, "a key advantage of Dhwani over conventional NFC is that it is a purely software-based solution that can run on legacy phones, including feature phones, so long as they have a speaker and a microphone. Consequently, much of the installed base of phones today could use Dhwani to perform P2P NFC communication." But unlike conventional RFID-based NFC, the paper adds, the use of acoustic communication means that Dhwani is not amenable to implementation in passive tags. Another advantage over conventional NFC, according to the report, is in terms of information-theoretic, physical-layer security. Dhwani's security model assumes that the devices seeking to communicate are trusted and immune to tampering. In their midst, however, might be one or more eavesdroppers; to combat this problem, Dhwani uses a self-jamming technique, called JamSecure, at the physical layer, enabling the receiver to intentionally jam the signal it is attempting to receive, thereby stymieing eavesdroppers, and then uses self-interference cancellation to successfully decode the incoming message. According to the paper, conventional NFC does not incorporate any security at the physical or media access control (MAC) layers, since the short communication range is presumed to offer a degree of protection. But the researchers say they have been able to demonstrate that it is possible to snoop on NFC communications from a distance of 20 to 30 centimeters (7.9 to 11.8 inches) using an oscilloscope and a standard tag antenna, and they conjecture that with a more sophisticated sniffer antenna, such snooping should be possible from a distance of a meter or more. Because Dhwani is a research project at the Microsoft Research India lab, the team is not currently in a position to comment on the prospects for commercializing the technology, according to Venkat Padmanabhan, Microsoft Research's principal researcher and research manager, and one of the Dhwani paper's authors.

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