Monday, 22 July 2013

Hands-on With McLear's NFC Ring

Interest surrounding wearable technology has seen a marked increase in the past few years, with consumers seemingly vying for smart watches and smart glasses. McLear Ltd have produced a slightly different type of wearable technology, in the form of an NFC ring.

It should first of all be emphasised that the ring that I've been using is a prototype; this is not final hardware. With that said, this ring feels good in the hands and on your finger. The band is a single piece of metal, so there are none of the durability issues associated with 'one size fits all' solutions. Instead, the ring is available in UK sizes 7-15.

There are actually two NFC inlays on the ring - one for public information to be stored and the other for more sensitive data. This means you can share your Twitter handle with the inlay on the outside of your hand, and have your building access credentials saved to the NFC tag that aligns with your palm. This has been done for added security, but anybody with malicious intent would have to be extremely close to the ring anyway, since McLear have deliberately set the reading distance to about 1mm.

The inlays are NTAG203 tags with 144 bytes of storage, which are fully NFC Forum compliant. This means that the ring is compatible with all existing and future NFC-enabled devices.

The one ring?
I've been told that multiple designs will be available for the textures of the inlays, with the possibility of ordering a custom design also existing. The prototype that I have features a wooden design.

McLear have developed a basic application for writing data to the ring, but you can also use other applications such as NFC Tag Launcher to fully explore its capabilities. Some examples of uses include:

-Sharing URLs of your Facebook/Twitter profiles.
-Storing a vCard with your details in it.
-Storing your WiFi credentials to share with visitors.
-Storing building access credentials, so that doors can be unlocked by your hand.
-Replacing your car's ignition button.

My favourite use of the NFC ring is to automatically unlock and lock my Android phones. It's incredibly cool, and can be used as more than just a gimmick. I've set up my Nexus 4 to automatically unlock (and bypass my lockscreen PIN) when the phone is placed in my hand, and to then automatically relock when the phone is removed from my hand. This did involve a small amount of hackery, which I've detailed here. It's best just to watch this video demonstration that I've uploaded to YouTube:

Cool, right? The main problem with this is that many phones have a different NFC 'sweet spot'. Nokia's phones, for example, have the NFC antenna located in the top of the phone, which would make unlocking in this manner quite awkward.

McLear are aware of this, and will be providing extra information about ideal phones for use with the ring.

I'm extremely excited to see the final version of this ring. A low-cost and discreet accessory like this is a perfect demonstration of the numerous possible applications of NFC technology. McLear have launched a Kickstarter for the ring, with a goal of raising £30,000 to enable further production. Backers can secure their own NFC ring by pledging £22 to the project before the 19th of August.

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4 Responses so far.

  1. johnmclear says:

    Did you need root and tasker for the unlock functionality?

  2. Nfcbrief says:

    Hi John,

    Yes, the phone has to be rooted for this to work. It's a combination of Tasker and Secure Settings that allows this to work.

  3. Sjef says:

    Cool hands-on !

    Did you use an "alpha" size or "normal" size ring, for your testing with the Nexus 4?

  4. Nfcbrief says:

    I believe the ring I have is an Alpha, but I'll get back to you with a confirmation.

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