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Touch Project Explores RFID-enabled Consumer Applications

A Nordic research project aims to help both designers and the general public get a handle on the technology by making it more tangible, and by adding it to consumer products.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sniff is meant to be a child's constant companion and aide. The RFID stickers accompanying the stuffed dog can be used to help identify hazards, based on the audio files or vibration patterns associated with the tag attached to a particular source of danger (such as a hot stove). Specific games can also be developed, such as assigning tags with bits of a melody, and then arranging the tagged objects in different patterns so that, when each is touched quickly with the dog's nose, it generates an audio pattern, or a song that the child knows and likes. The Sniff prototype has won a number of design awards, and has been featured in numerous exhibits. The Touch team has even published a short book about the project.

Another Touch project involves Near Field Communication (NFC) short-range, high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tags and interrogators. In this case, an NFC reader is attached to an iPhone through its serial port. According to Arnall, researchers have produced prototypes with NFC readers from a number of manufacturers, including SonMicro Electronics and Topptuniste, as well as NFC tags made with NXP Semiconductors' Mifare chips. Tagged objects then trigger the phone to play short movies or other media related to the tagged objects.

A third project, known as Skål, utilizes a small wooden bowl with an embedded 125 kHz RFID reader to identify tagged objects placed within it. The interrogator is connected to a television or computer, which plays a specific media file—a home movie, for instance, or a cartoon—based on the ID number encoded to the passive tag attached to the object placed in the bowl. The Skål prototypes are built using the same hardware as that used in Sniff.

In addition, the Touch project has launched its own development platform, Thing IO, that the researchers have used extensively for prototyping services and applications for NFC phones. The research team is currently seeking an initial round of funding, Arnall says, which would enable the platform to be commercialized.

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