Imagine booking a hotel room over the web, and getting the door key electronically sent to your mobile phone as you arrive – no frustrating queuing or check in after a long trip. You get to your room, tap the phone on a panel and the air-conditioning and TV channels change to your preferences, and WIFI is automatically set up for your devices.
These are the industry transformations being explored and envisioned by UTS's u.lab, through its partnership with Commerce in Motion, Australia's first near field communications (NFC)-only incubator. Together, they aim to explore how near field communications can revolutionise industries such as health care, aged living, entertainment and retail.
u.lab is an emerging platform for innovation projects at UTS drawing on academic expertise from business, engineering, architecture, design and IT, using human-centred and design-led innovation methodologies. This semester graduate students are exploring commercially viable opportunities in an NFC enabled world. Commerce in Motion is providing sponsorship and technology expertise through the ongoing mentorship of founders Patrick Crooks and Mark Jones.
Co-founder of UTS's u.lab and Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and IT, Dr Wayne Brookes, said, "The ability to tackle real-world problems with a new technology has elevated the program to a new level. Commerce in Motion is leading in the NFC field and their mentorship is invaluable. In turn, u.lab students can help them identify and commercialise potential applications of NFC."
That's not as easy as it sounds. Jones highlights one of the main challenges of emerging technologies: "NFC is the type of technology where ideas are like bellybuttons – everybody has one. The bridge between a frivolous idea and a great business is in the design of an elegant solution that meets specific needs. We aim at bridging that gap by combining our experience with u.lab methodologies."
Brookes agrees that today's leading technology companies are those who put as much emphasis on the user experience as they focus on building great technologies. "The best technologies are those that customers don't even know that they are interacting with, and a human-centred approach utilising NFC as an enabler ensures this level of user experience can be achieved," he said.
Apart from the learning outcomes for UTS students, the partnership hopes to yield further results, including the development of a NFC Futures design approach.
Today (31 October) student teams are revealing their proposals to the public at LauchPad, the bi-annual ideas pitching event at u.lab. The organisers hope that for some of the students this may be the seed for a successful start-up.
Commerce in Motion has demonstrated a deep commitment to NFC innovation through the growth of its own entrepreneurial portfolio, involvement in the Fishburner's start-up community and the hosting and sponsoring of events such as Australia's first NFC Hackathon and the u.lab NFC Futures program. Commerce in Motion also hosts a monthly NFC Developers Group Meetup and is publishing two guides on the use of NFC technology.
With the help of innovative companies, NFC can become a growth industry in Australia. "NFC is widely predicted to become a multi-billion dollar industry, responsible for over US $1trillion trade in the next five years," Jones said.
"Australia is fertile ground with high smart-phone penetration and the wide prevalence of NFC enabled merchant terminals. We encourage industry leaders to participate in the NFC Futures initiative with us so that more Australian businesses can benefit from the transformation that is occurring."