Forget Mobile Payments, Here’s Where NFC Really Shines

Instead of fumbling for your keys when you get home, imagine just tapping your phone against the lock.

  • Share
  • Read Later

Fraunhofer's Key2Share system uses near field communication to unlock doors.

Your phone may or may not already contain an NFC (near field communication) chip – if you have an Android phone, it might; if you have an iPhone, it doesn’t. We’ll begin to see NFC in more and more phones, though.

And one of the main marketing points for these NFC chips has been the ability to tap your phone on a payment terminal in a retail environment instead of taking five seconds to pull your wallet out of your pocket like a heathen. Samsung, for instance, also promotes NFC as a way to share music playlists and – ahem – private, marital videos by tapping two NFC-equipped phones together.

But if you ask me, a man of arguably inconsequential stature, the true power of NFC lies in its ability to unlock doors without using traditional keys.

If you work for a large-ish company, you may already have a keycard that either uses NFC or NFC-like technology to grant you access to certain employee-only areas. Now imagine having a keycard integrated directly into your NFC-equipped smartphone and outfitting your house with NFC door locks. Instead of fumbling for your keys when you get home, you’d just tap your phone against the lock. If you’re like me and you don’t use a car every day, you’d be able to leave the house with your wallet and your phone – no need to carry keys around. (Of course, all the mobile payment companies would rather you leave your wallet at home, too.)

The technology gets even more intriguing when you consider that smartphones are always connected: Granting someone with an NFC-equipped phone time-limited access to your house simply by e-mailing them is a logical extension of the technology. Germany‘s Fraunhofer Society – famous for inventing MP3 technology, among other things – is working on a system called Key2Share that would allow you to do just that.

According to CNet’s Stephen Shankland:

Key2Share uses smartphones equipped with near-field communications (NFC) short-range wireless networking abilities to unlock phones. But because approval to use the key becomes digital data, a person can e-mail that approval.

It could be useful for other situations, too, said Ahmad-Reza Sadeghi, a researcher involved with the project. For example, a hotel could send a key to important customers by text message or e-mail so they can bypass check-in. And a company could also quickly revoke access if an employee loses a smartphone then issue new keys as fast.

Sadeghi told CNet, “It is not that far from being a product, but it is not there yet.” Fraunhofer’s system skews more toward a corporate environment — there’s an entire paragraph in the marketing materials devoted to protecting the system against attacks — but it’s not a stretch to imagine a consumer version somewhere down the line.

There are a handful of similar products already on the market, however. The $179 Lockitron, for instance, is a Wi-Fi-connected apparatus that you can retrofit over the top of an existing deadbolt and use to remotely grant people access to your home. It doesn’t require NFC-equipped phones, either: In fact, iPhone users can program the door to unlock when they get within a few feet of it. And a U.K. upstart called Onefinestay uses a connected keyless entry system to let people rent out their homes without exchanging physical keys with renters.

So this technology exists and is in use already; that Fraunhofer is throwing weight behind it is a good sign we may see more and more of it around the world. Just don’t forget your phone. Or maybe hide a backup phone under a fake rock… that’s waterproof… and sports a built-in solar charger.

Need to lend your key? E-mail it, Fraunhofer says [CNet]