Simplifying IoT: Connecting, Commissioning, and Controlling with Near Field Communication (NFC)

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is in the process of transforming the way we live our lives by improving the quality of life with technological advancements in efficiency and safety. Consumers will be among the biggest beneficiaries as the home environment is one of the main platforms for the advancement of smart ecosystems. The habits of individual consumers will be detected by devices within smart home ecosystems and then that information will be used to optimize the environment. The connectivity of the IoT will enable the seamless communication among devices. Near Field Communication (NFC) can be used to help developers utilize internet-enabled devices in an effort to maximize the benefits of the IoT in daily life.

It is evident that NFC will be beneficial for smart home devices as nearly 40 billion connected devices are expected to be in use by 2020. NFC provides a simply solution for connecting IoT devices to a network. Any device that is lacking a quality user interface (UI) can be given user-friendly controls with a single tap via NFC. In addition to its ease of use, other benefits include explicit interaction through close proximity interactions, read and write capabilities, and communication with devices that are powered down. NFC is a low cost and low energy solution that will enhance the IoT experience.

Setting up networks of IoT devices clearly has several benefits, but enabling a connected smart home does pose some challenges. A pressing challenge is the difficulty of adding and removing devices within a network. The ability to manage devices can often be difficult when dealing with headless devices that don’t have a built-in UIs. There isn’t really a single way to setup various devices within a smart home environment as users are typically required to follow manufacturer-specific commissioning methods. NFC can be used to resolve these issues and improve the overall user experience.

There are many other challenges that are facing the IoT. However, NFC can offer solutions to some of the following concerns:

Commissioning Devices: As mentioned before, there isn’t a standard protocol in terms of the commissioning process for IoT devices. Users are confronted with too many different methods for adding devices to a network, especially when there are no UIs available. NFC uses a single tap, or proximity to commission a device, thus creating a standardized mechanism for adding devices to a network.

NFC-Based Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Pairing: Most IoT devices connect to a network via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth within a smart home environment, making it more important than ever that they operate with comparable efficiency. In terms of Bluetooth, the NFC Forum and Bluetooth SIG have collaborated to speed up the Bluetooth pairing process. This means that the very slow and time consuming process of device discovery and paring will be eliminated by using the NFC tap to enable an instant and secure connection. The NFC Forum also has been working with the Wi-Fi Alliance to make it easier to connect to wireless networks. Once the user taps the NFC device to the NFC tag for their Wi-Fi network, the device will configure itself and instantly connect without the user having to find the network name (SSID) or manually enter a password.

Headless Device Commissioning: Devices that don’t have a UI don’t have an easy way to add them to a network. Tapping these headless devices against an NFC tag with the networking key built-in will remove the headache of commissioning these devices. NFC is used to establish a secure and quick connection and then can erase the network key from the tag to protect it from being accessed by an unauthorized person.

Controlling a Device with No User Interface: There are a variety of smart devices such as light bulbs, environmental sensors, in-wall outlets, and more, that don’t include an integrated visual display. Even though Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can provide some IoT interactivity, there are still several issues when setting up and configuring devices. NFC offers a very simple and secure method for controlling IoT devices that don’t include a UI. Input interactions (network provisioning and configuration) and output interactions (reporting information and diagnostics) are enabled via NFC.

Access Control for the Smart Home: Environments such as condominiums and high-end apartments have multiple families living in them, which usually requires a massive amount of mechanical keys in order for everyone to enter their homes. Mechanical keys are expensive, time consuming to distribute, and can easily be copied. NFC offers a solution by giving property managers the ability to give tenants a smart card or mobile application to access their homes. Keys can be sent to friends and family members with no cost, and a record will be kept of who enters and exits the home. NFC technology will provide a secure, cost effective, and flexible rekeying solution for property managers.

Many of the current problems facing the IoT in terms of user-friendliness and accessibility will be resolved with NFC. The implementation of NFC can unlock the true power of a large assortment of IoT devices within a smart home ecosystem. NFC technology can enhance the user experience in a secure and flexible manner at a very affordable price. The potential impact that NFC will have on the IoT is widely recognized within the NFC Forum and the IoT SIG.

The Internet of Things Wins the Gold Medal in Rio

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer/Marketing

Every four years, the world’s best athletes come together to represent their countries and demonstrate their superior athletic ability. The spectacular showmanship displayed from the start of the opening ceremony, all the way to the end of the last competition, can make it hard to see some of the other amazing things that occur during the Olympics. The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics will include a variety of cutting-edge Internet of Things (IoT) technology that will assist in creating and improving the beautiful showcase of events that we have come to adore.

The Olympics are often associated with the iconic image of the interlocking colored rings, but these might not be the rings people are thinking about after this year’s Olympics. There is a new set of internet-connected rings that will take the stage in Rio. Visa has developed an IoT ring that can be used as a payment method, thus replacing the need to carry around debit and credit cards. Athletes at the Olympic games will be provided with these rings as it is a burden to worry about carrying payment information around between events. These rings use Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, ensuring that the rings will only be able to operate when touched against a reader. In addition to this, they run on very low power and can be deactivated from a smartphone. If this technology proves to be secure and convenient for the world’s best athletes, it will definitely be something that will be brought to the market in the near future.

Smart technology is not only making life more convenient for athletes, but it is also helping them stay healthy for the Olympics. Wearable technology makes it easier than ever to monitor the health of Olympians, allowing for them to perform at the highest level possible. One of the most innovate wearable solutions is the Hexoskin smart shirt, which is a Bluetooth shirt that is able to monitor things such as heart rate or breathing and sleeping patterns. This allows for a completely accurate analysis of an athlete’s body and can help them make the changes necessary to improve their performance.

Additional improvements in wearable technology are being designed to ameliorate the performance of athletes in specific Olympic games. A prominent example of this technology can be observed in sensor that is attached to shoes called TUNE, which was created by Kinematix. These sensors allow athletes to monitor their feet when they are running, allowing for detailed insight on their running patterns. This can help provide suggestions on improving technique and form, as well as providing a running program optimized for anyone’s needs. Another useful technology that is making cycling more advanced is the smart cycling glasses, Solos, by Kopin. Cyclists can wear these glasses and be able to access real-time data on their performance from a smartphone. These technological advancements are among the many that are helping athletes improve in their competitions.

The integration of wirelessly-enabled technology and physical performance has provided Olympians with the ability to increase their range of abilities. That being said, those athletes who do not utilize the innovative IoT technology will have a severe handicap when it comes to performance. Smart technology is not only helping Olympians succeed, but it is also helping the games be judged and monitored in more detail. There are a variety of sensors that are being used to provide more accurate and real-time analysis of Olympic games. The IoT is enabling many athletes to improve their skillset and bring home a prestigious gold medal.

Plug-and-play NFC portfolio expanded

The plug-and-play Near Field Communication (NFC) portfolio developed by NXP has officially been expanded. The upgraded portfolio has been extended with the Arduino add-on boards (Kinetis, LPCXpresso, i.MX, and QorIQ), allowing for faster NFC prototyping and expansion. In addition to this, the release of the PN7150 NFC controller will make it a much simpler process to integrate NFC technology within electronic devices.

The new and innovative PN1750 is perfectly equipped for several applications including home network gateways, set-top boxes, routers, and more. Adam Justice, Vice President of Grid Connect, describes the significance of the plug-and-play NFC portfolio expansion; “NXP’s robust portfolio of NFC controllers enable an easy integration of NFC technology to consumer devices, while instantly making them smarter, more intuitive and easy to use.” This technology will make it much easier for consumers to install their smart home devices.

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