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Technical Perspective: Sensing Interaction with Everyday Objects Using Near-Field Communication in Textiles

traditional near-field communication, illustration

Credit: Shopify

Most smartphones are equipped with near-field communication (NFC) tags. These tags facilitate mobile payments, public transit ticketing, garage access, logistics and shipping, inventory management, and even medical record retrieval. They are essentially a wireless system that operates within the centimeter range. In a typical setting, an NFC transceiver sends an electric current through a coil, which in turn generates a magnetic field. A nearby tag equipped with a similar coil then magnetically couples with the transceiver to draw power to the tag. This application of inductive coupling allows the transceiver and the tag to wirelessly transmit data. This is also how a card key (embedded with an NFC tag) unlocks a hotel room when held close to the lock (where the transceiver is).

Compared to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the advantage of NFC technology is the wireless signal used to unlock a hotel room is within the centimeter range, making signal recording and exploitation difficult. For the same reason, NFC has been increasingly used for transactions with strict security or privacy requirements. Home automation is the most recent example of NFC applications, with some smart home platforms implementing NFC tags for device control. Given NFC's low cost, ease of deployment, and privacy-protecting benefits, NFC-enabled smart living can be envisioned, with everyday objects tagged so their locations and how the users interact with them can be gathered for sophisticated control.


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