'World's smallest' RFID reader supports a magic touch

Near Field Communication could take RFID out of the logistics chain and into film and music posters, and a UK vendor is now backing the emerging technology with a new reader

A UK company has developed a radio frequency identification (RFID) reader that supports Near Field Communication (NFC), a new standard that will allow electronic devices to interact when touched together.

The RFID reader module is called 'io', and has been created by Innovision Research & Technology of Berkshire. It is smaller than a 5p piece or an American dime, which the company said makes it the smallest RFID reader yet created.

Innovision is aiming to sell io to electronics manufacturers who want to RFID-enable devices such as PDAs and MP3 players, allowing them to communicate with RFID tags.

By adding support for NFC, Innovision says it is getting ready for a time when mobile users will be able to download music tracks by just tapping their device against a poster. This day is close, according to Innovision, which predicts that NFC applications could be deployed next year.

"NFC has all the right building blocks for many applications," said Marc Borrett, managing director of Innovision, who added that the first products could be deployed within 12 to 18 months, followed by "a wave of applications".

The NFC standard is being backed by Nokia, Philips and Sony, who launched the NFC Forum at the CeBIT trade show earlier this year. They say that people could use NFC to establish a link between two handheld devices in order to swap music -- or they could just wave their NFC phone at a smart film poster to automatically buy a ticket. NFC will act as a digital identifier. Once the connection has been established between two NFC-enabled devices, another wireless technology such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth will be used to actually transfer the data.

Alternatively, it could help a user to use their mobile phone as an e-wallet. A demonstration of NFC's potential at CeBIT showed a travelling businessperson using their NFC-capable phone to check in at the airport, collect a digital key on arrival at their hotel, and pay their bill electronically when they checked out.

"This isn't a pie-in-the-sky scenario," said Borrett.

He predicted that the first NFC deployment will be in consumer devices, followed by the medical sector where it could be used to share a patient's records between medical staff, reducing the risk of the data being lost or mistakenly changed.

"There's a big need to reduce operator error and increase patient safety," Borrett explained.

For more on RFID, check out the IT Priorities RFID Special Report, and Toolkit.