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Smarter Things

NXP's NTAG I²C NFC chip enables consumers and businesspeople to use smartphones to communicate with myriad electronic devices, cars and buildings.
By Paul Prince
Jun 18, 2014

If only the walls—and other things—could talk! Now they can—and you can talk to them—thanks to NXP Semiconductors' new NTAG I²C NFC chip, which adds smart functionality to household appliances, thermostats, automobiles, office equipment, health-care devices and building infrastructure.

The chip combines passive high-frequency Near-Field Communication technology with a built-in I²C interface, enabling users to communicate directly with any tagged item via an NFC reader. What's smart about this solution is that it does not require consumers or businesses to purchase dedicated RFID readers. Instead, you can use the NFC reader that's standard on most mobile phones today to connect with the tagged products or things.

What's smart about this solution is that you can use the NFC reader that's standard on most mobile phones today to connect with the tagged products or things. (Photo: NXP Semiconductors)
"Thirty years or so ago, when we were Philips Semiconductors, we invented the I²C serial interface," says Victor Vega, NXP's director of NFC and RFID solutions. "For our NTAG I²C chip, what we did was add a front-end NFC RFID, and connect it with I²C on the back end, so you dynamically make changes to a device whether there is power on or not."

An appliance manufacturer, for example, could install an NTAG I²C chip inside a basic washing machine and transform that appliance into a high-end product with more features, for little additional cost, Vega says.

"Washing machines come in two flavors," he says. "One might be the low end of the spectrum, where you have your basic settings, such as temperature. But we can use an NFC phone as a remote interface and get a lot more."

For businesses, the NTAG I²C chip could solve the problem of getting consumers to register new appliances with manufacturers, Vega says. Tapping a smartphone against a washing machine when it is turned on for the first time enables the phone's NFC reader to receive the machine's serial and model numbers. "My phone has my personal information," Vega explains, "so for my registration process, I can say 'autofill and submit.' I am now registered in the cloud. Only 35 percent of the population fills out the warranty card, and when they do it costs the product manufacturer $2 apiece. So we just saved the company big bucks and got the population to register."

Consumers could access a range of options when they're ready to do a load of wash. Most basic machines offer limited settings: cold, warm, hot; small, medium, large. But when a consumer taps a smartphone against a washing machine, the handset's screen could display an expanded range of choices. "Instead of 140 degrees, maybe I want 115," Vega says. "Maybe I want something in between small and medium for my load size. I can pick soil type and extend my spin cycle. If my child is napping, I can turn off the machine's alert function. And I can put the child-protection feature on, so he can't put the cat in the machine and turn it on."

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