Interface – the sixth human sense

Like the RFID technology on which it is based, the world is only just beginning to wake up to the potential power of NFC to become almost a sixth sense in the human species.

We see, we hear, we smell, we taste, we touch; these five senses have served us well in the physical world and we have evolved them to become the most sophisticated communications system in the animal kingdom.

But we have a new world now, the virtual digital world, that has grown and flourished in a nano-fraction of the time the physical world took to evolve. And where these two worlds meet we need a new sense, the sense of ‘interface’. It will be this interface that determines just how seamless is the constant transition between physical and virtual, how effective the transfer of information from physical to virtual and back out to physical again, in other words, how digital data interacts with life itself.

So where is it all going to go? Let’s look at a simple analogy, the telephone. From two simple speaking and hearing devices, linked by a twisted pair of copper wires, to our mobile and cell networks via ground station and satellite and incorporating seeing through picture and video transmission. Who’s to say that digital touch, smell and taste are not just around the corner? 

What is clear is that the technology has evolved to satisfy the human need rather than the other way round. So to understand the future potential of NFC we have to think of how humans live, what they do, how they interact to see where improving the interface between physical and virtual worlds might be attractive enough to encourage NFC adoption. Juniper research suggest that the use of NFC could account for 80bn of transactions by 2017, by encouraging adoption we could see that kind of growth in other applications.

The money thing is obvious, a cashless society, with transaction based on NFC chip and unique identifier, whether pin, fingerprint or eye scan. But although obvious, it is still predicted that even basic applications like payment will not be adopted by more than 15% of the global population within 5 years.

Security is an area ripe for NFC exploitation, providing the interface with a clubs, groups, schools and universities, where our social interaction starts; opening virtual doors and actually opening physical doors. NFC can facilitate instant identification, registration and communication; swap documents, pictures, films and tunes without need of anything more than our phone. Already hospitals are using NFC/RFID to monitor where patients are, including smart tags that carry the whole patient record.

Perhaps, now that we no longer carry swords, the handshake on meeting may evolve into the touching of our NFC enabled devices, exchanging digital information by way of greeting. And maybe, if our NFC chip moves from our phone to our watch, as Sony hope with their SmartWatch, launched in September, then we will get the best of both worlds.

In the commercial world it tends to be marketing opportunities the open the investment wallets, and already we are seeing how NFC can act as a window into the virtual world. No longer just a picture in the travel agent’s window but with the wave of an NFC device, you are whisked to your destination viewed through video glasses to experience for yourself, possibly even in real time.

And in the fashion world, your phone now holding a digital replication of yourself, as you stop at any item that has caught your eye, the app has dressed you in that top or those shoes, maybe even transporting you to a club or a restaurant or that holiday destination, so that you can watch yourself and decide to buy or not to buy.

As our virtual world matures it is the interface that matters, reducing the reliance on keyboarding and using the full potential of NFC to be that new sixth sense.