Startup: NFC Ring Reviewed

By Brian Rhodes, Published Sep 24, 2013, 12:00am EDT

An eccentric startup wants to empower your fistbumps with information. If the NFC Ring takes off, knocking knuckles will not only swap contact information, but it may also unlock your doors, pay your busfares, and turn on your smartphone, all in a secure fashion. A successful Kickstarter campaign suggests people love the idea, but should you? We answer that question in this note.

The Ring of Power

Essentially, the NFC Ring is a metal casting containing two NFC chips, or 'inlays'. These chips are oriented 'top' and 'bottom' to each other, and if worn correctly support two unique sets of information. These inlays are passively powered by NFC readers, but wearing the chips on a finger places it within natural activation range of handheld tablets, smartphones, or other computers. The image below reveals the basic design and appearance of the ring:

The ring is programed from an app on a smartphone, or potentially via a hardwired NFC reader. The chips are unlocked and empty until 'set' with information exchanged to it by companion software. Purchasing a ring also comes with an app to configured the ring for simple tasks, like exchanging contact details or webpage information, but has the potential to host any NFC-based information. The image below shows a screenshot of data enrollment from an Android:

 

Two Sided Security

The fundamental feature of the ring is that it actually stores two sets of information: a 'public' store that contains general contact information: Social Media profiles, Email/Phone numbers, Business Card details, and a 'private' store than contains secure information: credentials, finance details, and passwords.

In order to exchange 'public details' (ie: from the ring to a mobile device), a clenched fist is 'bumped' against the target. The mass of the wearer's fingers and the ring absorbs any potential energy from allowing the 'private inlay' from being activated. However, for more secure functions, like opening access controlled doors or activating mobile devices, the palm is opened and the inside 'private' inlay is read. The video below details the function of both inlays:

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Like all NFC credentials, the endpoint devices must include a reader. While adoption is early, NFC readers are being integrated to many Android smartphones, tablets, and is even being featured in a number of EAC readers.

Cost

Early versions of the NFC Ring were available on the project's Kickstarter page for $40 USD. Final production versions are expected to cost around the same, and will be available in multiple styles for either gender.

Fistbumping 2.0

In the business world, a 'handshake' often 'seals the deal'. However, the NFC Ring wants you to take fistbumping to the next level. In a public or casual setting, the gesture may proclaim you "king of the streets" or someone's "best bro". However, as the image below represents, the gesture looks a little awkward in a business setting. Even if all the elements to exchange details in the coolest, high-tech manner possible (ie: via NFC Ring) are present, most stuffed-shirt business types will still opt for the refined (analog) method of exchanging business cards.

What about Access Control?

Using the Ring for door access still needs development. At current, NFC for commercial access control requires credentials to be provisioned on the chip before each opening. This is done to ensure that 'old' (previously flashed) credentials cannot open doors, and that security is maintained even for 'offline' standalone locks. Since the ring is unpowered, it could only be used for access if it was first 'cloned' to hold the same information as a networked credential (ie: smartphone). Because of the considerable amount of time it takes to first provision a phone and then copy them to the ring, it does not seem a likely technology for commercial access control.

Crowdsourcing

Say what you will about the viability of the idea, but the NFC Ring was recently bolstered by a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $385,000. The project caught the eye of many, including 'Kickstarter of the Week' award. The profile below not only is good for product knowledge, but reveals the eccentricity of the developer - UK based software developer John McLear:

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