Taking NFC outside the box

Innovative new applications in Near Field Communication (NFC) were celebrated at the first European NFC competition, showing that anything is possible when it comes to the new technology.

The Touching the Future competition brought together 53 entrants from 13 countries under the theme “simplicity of touch” and with the goal of promoting excellence in European NFC service implementations. The NFC Forum, a non-profit industry association, and the SmartTouch project jointly presented the competition, which was held on April 27 in Monaco.

“We wanted Touching the Future to push the limit,” says Vice Chairman of the NFC Forum, Gerhard Romen. “We wanted to go beyond what is currently out there and see, instead, what is possible.”

NFC utilizes short-range, wireless technology, in cell phones, computers and consumer electronics. Two NFC compatible devices can exchange information when brought within a few centimeters of one another or by actually touching.

Touching the Future hosted two tracks of competition, with Track A open to NFC services already implemented in Europe, and Track B open to proposals for future NFC services.

Winning applications
Sonja Leskinen and teammates Tapio Matinmikko and Vili Törmänen, from The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), took home the first place honors in Track B for the revolutionary Seeingeyephone.

“There were so many participants with so many great ideas. We were very happy to win,” says Leskinen. The Seeingeyephone was designed to assist visually impaired grocery store shoppers. An NFC tag containing information about store products, such as price and nutritional information, is attached to the store shelf next to the product, allowing customers to simply hold an NFC-enabled phone to the tag. The phone can then read the information aloud using a voice synthesizer.

Inspired by his visually impaired brother, VTT team member Tapio Matinmikki developed the Seeingeyephone two years ago, when the technology for the application did not yet exist.   With its theme of looking ahead, Touching the Future was an ideal forum through which to present the concept, explains Leskinen. “Today, the technology is there to make the Seeingeyephone a reality,” she says.

Help for homecare
The top prizewinner for Track A was Nedap NV Healthcare of The Netherlands for its iO TouchPro. Already being utilized by 6,000 healthcare workers in Europe, the iO TouchPro eliminates paperwork and saves time by automating the process of recording and transmitting patient services provided by homecare workers. The application uses an NFC-enabled Nokia 3220 mobile phone and Nedap’s iO software.

Rob Schuurman presented the iO TouchPro on behalf of Nedap. “With iO TouchPro, when a nurse enters the patient’s home, he or she just touches the patient chip card with their phone,” says Schuurman. “That stores the start time in our central database and sends the nurse specific information about the patient.”

Several security applications were also presented in both tracks of competition. They included a second submission from Nedap, iO open, which enables healthcare workers to access patients’ homes in case of emergency, and the Vacant Property NFC Application from Over-C UK, Ltd.

On patrol
The Vacant Property application uses NFC tags located throughout an empty building. The tags allow a patrolling security guard to submit their location while also monitoring how long it takes to get from point A to B to C.

“Timing is critical in this application,” Gerhard Romen explains. “Because, if a certain time threshold is passed without the guard checking in, you will know there is trouble and know fast.”

In total 10 winners, including eight runners-up, took home trophies at Touching the Future. “Every winner highlighted new capabilities for NFC,” says Romen. “The driver in NFC is simplicity and convenience for the consumer. But these applications stretched far beyond, and we will see much more of this in the coming years.”

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