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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
Oct 16, 2009Three years after being launched, the Touch research project, based at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design and funded by the Research Council of Norway, has come up with a number of novel ways to show how radio frequency identification can be used, including an interactive toy dog and a Rube Goldberg-like creation.

According to Timo Arnall, a graphic designer and lecturer who leads the project, Touch's objectives are largely academic, with three specific areas of concentration: research, innovation and communication. "The basic research," he explains, "has explored the ways in which [RFID] technology can be used by designers, and the design methods that can be used to help shape and mould it into user-centered applications."

Embedded in Sniff's nose is an RFID interrogator that causes the toy to vibrate and play sounds based on the tagged objects it reads.

The innovation comes in as the researchers investigate how design can be employed to visualize the technology, and to help make it understandable and intuitive for users. The fruit of this work, Arnall says, comes through in the prototypes the researchers have developed. Furthermore, the research team is working to, as he puts it, "communicate through and about the technology. We think RFID is particularly interesting because it is so controversial and so hyped. We have attempted to create pragmatic yet culturally resonant visions of RFID that communicate to a wide audience, that can help people to understand and evaluate the technology before it is fully formed."

None of the projects have morphed into commercial products just yet, but one of them, Arnall says—a plush cotton stuffed toy dog named Sniff—has received a great deal of commercial interest, and may soon receive funding for extended development. Designed by Sara Johansson, who graduated with degrees in interaction and product design from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Sniff was designed to help children—particularly, but not exclusively, those with impaired vision—to interact with objects that otherwise might be difficult to identify.

Embedded in the stuffed animal's nose is an RFID interrogator, manufactured by ID Innovations and wired to a number of different components that are activated based on tag data the reader collects as it is placed in close proximity to tagged objects. The tags contain 125 kHz passive RFID chips that comply with EM Microelectronic's EM4001 specifications. These components include a speaker and two vibration motors in different parts of the dog. A microprocessor controls the reader, the vibration motors and a sound card that stores various audio files.

Sniff from Timo Arnall on Vimeo.

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