Touchatag's aim: RFID apps development made easier

A homeowner had a vexing problem. While the family cat was able to go in and out through a pet door, so was a mischievous neighborhood raccoon, which snuck in and ate the cat’s food.

RFID came to the rescue.

An RFID reader on the door picked up the signal from the RFID tag on the cat’s collar, opening the door for the cat but not the raccoon.

This is one of the scores of applications users have created for Touchatag, the maker of an open RFID application development kit. Touchatag, a startup funded by Alcatel-Lucent Ventures, showed off its technology at JavaOne 2009, held June 2-5 in San Francisco.

"Java developers are a creative bunch and so we’re trying to get them onto the API," said Ted Haeger, developer relations manager for Touchatag.

Touchatag is the next phase in the continuing evolution of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. RFID has been used in a variety of applications such as warehouse inventory control. Motorists who have an EZ-Pass device on their car’s windshield for electronic toll payment are using RFID technology.

But Touchatag is enabling easier development of RFID apps by releasing an application programming interface (API) May 19 to expand the number of ways the technology can be put to use. Touchatag people were handing out RFID starter kits at JavaOne with a reader that connects to a computer via USB cable and 10 RFID tags. The app is created on the computer and the program is downloaded to the tag by touching the tag to the reader.


Touchatag starter kit

Many Touchatag applications are consumer focused, Haeger explained. Children coming home from school touch the tag to a reader on the home computer and a text message, e-mail or even a Tweet goes out to mom or dad to inform them their child has arrived home.

Tags can be used to open up a Skype connection. Tags can be attached to sides of a cube and, when touched to the reader, open a media player on the computer. Different sides of the cube represent the play, pause, stop and other functions of the player.

The company also has an online store of Touchatag applications.

But Touchatag was at JavaOne to promote enterprise uses of NFC, or "near-field communications," Haeger continued. "People were coming up to me and suggesting applications for it."

Touchatag could replace the big ring of keys security guards or janitors wear on their belts. A reader on each door they go through would record when they entered that room and when they left. A route driver could log when he delivered a new shipment of soft drinks to a particular supermarket.

Alcatel-Lucent announced during JavaOne that PingPing, an electronic payments service from Belgian wireless carrier Belgacom, would use Touchatag as the platform for helping developers create new applications for PingPing.

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