Embedded Real-Time Info Could Target Travelers

Imagine being able to electronically transmit real-time travel information, maps, directions, coupons and marketing messages from posters hanging on walls in malls, airports, subways, or bus stations to mobile phones. Not a futuristic fantasy, but a live project recently launched in London.

The Transport of London, Imperial College London, and public transport data company Kizoom are collaborating on the three-month project dubbed Visualization of Real-Time Transport Interchange, or VORTIX. The companies are working with technology known as Near Field Communication developed jointly by NXP Semiconductor and Sony Electronics.

NFC, a short-range wireless standard, enables two devices to communicate within a few centimeters apart. Embedding NFC into 19 posters around Blackfriars Underground station in London lets travelers transmit maps, directions, real-time travel advice and marketing messages from the posters to their mobile phone.

Today, a handful of people will trial the service, but Steffen Steinmeier*, NXP's head of global business development for NFC, says as the project progresses the number will expand to 500 by the end of this year.

Travelers input a destination into their 6131 NFC-enabled Nokia phones being used in the trial, and, when changing modes of transportation at the Blackfriars station, will touch a poster to get updated information sent to their phone. Other phones are compatible with NFC technology, too.

A Java-based application on the phone lets travelers receive information on the handset screen nearly instantaneously, including a map of the station, real time information, and links to surrounding shops and locations. URLs provide additional information on travel services and points of interest.

Advertising, promotions and marketing on mobile phones are possible applications that extend beyond the initial installation aimed at electronic payments and gathering information, Steinmeier says. "You would provide the traveler with special offerings through a link on the phone," he says. "By touching the poster you could trigger an SMS message that would deliver to your phone a coupon redeemable at a nearby store."

These smart posters tested at a theater last December in Bangkok, Thailand, allowed moviegoers to download movie tickets, information and ringtones from posters hanging on the wall to their phone.

Products with built-in NFC can simplify the way consumers share information, or make fast and secure electronic payments. NXP and Sony designed the technology to transmit information between two devices not more than one inch apart. A simple touch can establish a NFC connection that's also compatible with other wireless devices running Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

* Editor's note: The article was amended after publication.

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