The Sixth Sense. What would you do with it?

Don’t you wish you had a sixth sense that let you see into the future – beyond what your current five senses allow?

While this is not possible (…quite yet! Who knows?), getting an early indication of what’s going on with our bodies is becoming a reality with medical sensor patches and wearable fitness technology. These devices are designed to monitor your body’s vital parameters such as temperature, hydration, pulse rate and more without tethering you to a bulky wired setup. While some solutions are pushing the limits on battery life, there are other innovative designs that are eliminating batteries completely. Even in the case of a battery-powered device, what happens if the battery runs out and the user still needs to pull the data off the device? This is an example where integrating Near Field Communication (NFC) into these designs can help. NFC technology can be used not only for data transfers but also to power these sensor patches when reading them using a reader device like an NFC-enabled smartphone.

Every year when I train for my half-marathons, I realize the importance of being properly hydrated. As anyone can tell you, proper hydration is critical to performance and health – not only for runners but also other athletes. So, what if I could have a virtually invisible, non-intrusive hydration sensor on my arm that I could read periodically by tapping my smartphone and find out my hydration level? Enough of bragging! But seriously, while my own training is not exhaustive enough to dehydrate me to dangerous levels, dehydration is a serious issue among athletes. A simple, low-cost hydration sensor patch can go a long way in timely detection of a problem.

Where am I going with this? Well, I am talking about using NFC-enabled sensor patches. NFC can bring value to these applications because it can be used to power sensors as well as for data transfers to a smartphone or another NFC-enabled device. Clearly the wireless data transfer can be achieved by other connectivity solutions such as Bluetooth®, Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi, etc., but NFC has unique advantages for these types of applications because of its low power consumption, passive (battery-less) operation and inherent security due to the proximity-based (a few centimeters) connectivity.

What’s fueling this trend is the proliferation of smartphones and integration of NFC in them. Smartphones are becoming a hub of health and fitness activity with their built-in sensors, but they can’t be in direct contact with the skin, so that’s where these medical patches (that can adhere to skin) can extend the functionality and feed data into the hub – our smartphones.

But the concept is not limited to medical applications. In industrial and  Internet of Things (IoT) segments, there are plenty of applications that can benefit from NFC capabilities. One such application is hermetically sealed (air-tight) glass encapsulated sensor nodes. Encapsulation allows it to be used in harsh environments and NFC can add passive (battery-less) operation and wireless connectivity.

Today, my team at TI is announcing a new addition to its NFC portfolio. The new RF430FRL152H NFC sensor transponder integrates an NFC interface with a fully programmable MSP430 MCU and other unique IP such as FRAM (non-volatile memory) for data storage, an ADC for analog sensors and I2C/SPI for digital sensors connectivity. Developers can use this highly integrated NFC transponder for quick and easy designs for their innovative applications that require sense-store-forward functionality.

Now the question is, what does this sixth sense mean to you and how would you use NFC to hone it?