Smartrac Sees RFID's Future in the Cards, the Clouds and the Cosmos

ags: Asset Tracking, NFC RFID tag, NFC tags

RFID and Near Field Communication (NFC) tag and inlay producer Smartracis partnering with playing cards company Cartamundi to develop an NFC tag that is small, thin and cheap enough to be embedded in standard cards, such as sports trading cards, playing cards and game cards, that could be used to connect users to Internet-based games. Cartamundi expects to begin offering NFC-enabled cards with the new technology by the end of the year. Smartrac announced the partnership, as well as the release of its new software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution Smart Cosmos, at the RFID Journal LIVE!conference and exhibition, held last month in San Diego, Calif.

Cartamundi already makes some NFC-enabled cards for use in casinos, most commonly to enable a casino's software to identify cards during tournaments, explains Tom Kestens, Cartamundi's press officer. Poker tournaments are often aired online or are televised for audiences, and information about the cards in play during poker games is displayed for viewers. Since the cards are played facedown on the table, casinos have traditionally placed cameras under glass tabletops to identify each card. Now, some casinos are using the NFC chips built into Cartamundi playing cards to accomplish the same task. These, however, are not standard cards, Kestens notes. The NFC RFID chips on the market are currently too large to be built into standard-sized playing cards, he explains, so special cards must be made. Although a regular deck of poker cards sold to consumers would typically not employ NFC technology, trading cards and cards intended for online gaming would.

Cartamundi and Smartrac aim to make such cards easily NFC-enabled as well, by creating an NFC chip that is thin enough not to be detected in paper, and cheap enough that Cartamundi could make the cards affordable to consumers. Existing NFC tags "are way too expensive to use in plain playing [or trading] cards," Kestens says. "For us, it's all about bringing down the bar to make the technology available to everyone." He adds, "Our ultimate goal is for the most flexible, thinnest and cheapest NFC chip in the world."

Smartrac is working to make that happen, according to Mikko Nikkanen, the company's electronics and gaming global director. Smartrac's goal, he says, is to develop a tag that could be embedded in any standard-size card (Cartamundi sells approximately 15 billion cards annually, including playing cards, trading and collectible cards, and cards used in digital gaming). The new chip could bring NFC capability to both packaging and cards, Kestens says, adding that Cartamundi expects the new, smaller chip that will result from the partnership to be useful for other companies in other industries as well.

Smartrac is pursuing NFC not only for televised poker games, but also to enable users to access games online by tapping a collectible or trading card against their NFC-enabled phones. Users could also physically share or trade collectible cards for digital gaming with friends. Each card's RFID tag ID number would be stored along with data regarding the level of game play attained by that card's owner, Nikkanen explains.

Cartamundi envisions casinos using NFC-tagged cards during poker tournaments to prevent cheating. The company also believes that RFID tags could be embedded in trading cards—including those for sports athletes or other collectibles that are traded among friends—to track where a card has been around the world. (By tapping the card against a smartphone, an individual could add his or her own location and then trade that card with a friend.) In collectible-card games, players often battle each other with creature cards. The creatures' abilities change based on a dice roll. However, if data were stored inside a card's NFC RFID tag, that card would be able to carry a history and "personality" that other players could then access using their NFC-enabled phones. For instance, players can name and train their creatures, which can then "level up" and do battle, and they can either take advantage of training or sustain damage, die or be revived.