Touch and go – near-field communication technology set to 'change the world'

Investigating the use of near field communication (NFC) technology in everyday life is the aim of a EUREKA project headed by the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT). The SmartTouch
project involves so-called smart objects that are touched with a mobile reader, incorporated into a mobile phone, for instance. The user can thus gain access to information or make a payment.

The technology is already being tested in a number of pilot studies, most extensively in the Finnish city of Oulu. In 2005, city workers started doing work-time management using SmartTouch,
says Janne Mustonen, SmartTouch project manager for the city of Oulu. Two more trials followed: ‘The first one was a food service for elderly people. They ordered food at home, just by touching
the poster: I want to eat that food tomorrow,’ says Mr Mustonen. Secondly, in Oulu’s public sports hall, citizens use an NFC phone as a key.

However, many more applications have been found and are currently undergoing testing in Oulu. This includes a parking project where a parking tag is attached to the car as well as in the
parking area. Both tags have to be touched in order to inform the city’s parking system where the car is parked and pay the parking charge. A further trial is looking into NFC technology in a
theatre environment. Theatre-goers can pay for their ticket, drinks or snacks and download information or short video clips.

‘NFC is a kind of technology that will change the world because you can do things very easily just by touching. You do not have to push many buttons in order to get the service on your mobile
phone. Everybody likes it,’ Janne Mustonen told CORDIS News.

SmartTouch communication is based on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and the NFC short range wireless connectivity interface and protocol. While the technology can be compared
to the widely used Bluetooth standard, the range of NFC smart tags is only about ten centimetres. ‘NFC can provide a little more information that a mere ID, so it can hold information and some
processing power, too,’ Dr Tuomu Tuikka, SmartTouch project manager from the VTT, explains. ‘Bluetooth technology is faster, but near-field technology has its obvious advantages when you are
considering payment and ticketing and contacting one device close to the other.’

Still, as soon as money transfers are involved, security concerns have to be addressed, an aspect that SmartTouch as well as the NFC forum – a non-profit industry association – are looking
into. In principle, one security element with NFC is its short range, Dr Tuikka says. ‘Then again, if we are having Visa or MasterCard inside, that is a different story. The credit card
application can be stored on the SIM card, but inside a secure element which means that the keys for the secure element are held by a trustworthy organisation.’ The details, however, still have
to be figured out, as do profitable business models for the project partners.

It is difficult to predict when NFC will actually enter the market and become widely used, Dr Tuikka says. Although NFC-enabled mobile phones are already available, questions of standardisation
and certification still have to be clarified.

The three-year project that will be completed at the end of 2008 is funded by the Information Technology for European Advancement (ITEA) programme, a EUREKA strategic cluster. 24 organisations
from Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK are involved in the research. With a budget of ?30 million, SmartTouch is the largest NFC development effort in
Europe.

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