Connecting people to their environment with contactless tags

Last week we announced the winning showcases for 21 participating cities in the Living Labs Global Award (LLGA) 2012 competition. Of those awarded, one company left the Rio Conference as the selected solution for not just one, but for four different cities in this year's awards. That company, Connecthings, was chosen for its showcase "Contactless tags to bridge real and physical worlds". Barcelona, Derry-Londonderry, Hamburg, and Rio de Janeiro all selected Connecthings' project for a pilot release within their cities over the next year.

Contactless tags codify information into a unique pattern, often not much bigger than the size of a postal stamp, which can be attached to any surface. NFC and QR codes are two examples of contactless tags. A smartphone can be used to scan these tags and instantly pull up the associated data in a web browser, giving the user a simple and convenient method of accessing information. Contactless tags can also be coded to instantly send an SMS to the user's phone, or to automatically dial a phone number. Connecthings' idea is to use this medium to better connect people to real-time travel data, cultural and historic information, and other tourist and city service information.

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The key advantage of contactless tags is the instantaneous connection to the exact information that a user needs. Rather than having to navigate a web site that may have hundreds of different pages, or needing to search for a specific app to find tourist or travel information, contactless tags remove the intermediary step of searching for information. This makes them a user-friendly option for anyone who has a smartphone or other contactless reader device. They also have the benefit of being inexpensive to produce, program, and install, which makes them an effective option for cities looking for low-cost, high-impact solutions for making information more accessible to the public.

Derry-Londonderry, Hamburg, and Barcelona all intend to implement Connecthings' solution to better connect tourists to the cultural, historical, and social offerings of their cities. Contactless tags can be placed on monuments, historical markers, museum signs, directional markers, transit stops, and other visible, high-traffic locations to deliver information directly to users.

Rio de Janeiro aims to use the technology for a slightly different purpose; its LLGA challenge was to find a solution to create a "Knowledge Square" in the city, empowering disadvantaged communities with better access to information  and a more efficient way to share resources. Rio hopes to implement contactless tags in the city in a way that increases access to new technologies, promotes a technology-literate population, and provides a fun, interesting way for people to connect within and outside of their communities.

Contactless tags have the potential to change how people interact with the urban environment, whether as a citizen or a tourist. With four pilot projects soon to be underway, Connecthings' contactless tags solution will be one to watch in the next year.

~ Allison Bullock