Playful RFID

This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating.

Street at play

RFID has the potential to enable new kinds of playful interactions in toys and consumer electronics. There are three features that make this interesting: passive RFID tags don’t require batteries, offer wireless communication and a scheme for identifying physical objects.

The lack of batteries or serviceable parts allows the use of natural materials and uninterrupted surfaces; almost any object can become part of a gaming experience (excluding metal and water in most cases).

The short-range wireless properties allow action at a distance; when objects are brought near to each other, things happen! If this is combined with natural materials there is the potential to create experiences akin to magic.

Of course the fundamental feature of RFID is enabling the consistent identification of physical objects or users/players. In this context it allows game objects with memory or for users with a consistent identity within a game space.

When combined, these features seem to offer an almost unique opportunity. How can we take these opportunities and make games, toys or playful products?

This project should work towards making immediate, simple, ‘magic’ toys, games or playful consumer electronics. Taking these various opportunities afforded by RFID it should experiment with natural materials, game structures that require unique ID’s for either game objects or players and gameplay that relies on physical objects. It should focus more on the physical end of gameplay but could also consider interfaces for screen-based experiences.

The project should create demonstrable prototypes at various levels. Simple techniques such as sketching and model-making should result in a body of visual and physical work, followed by simple experiments using RFID readers and tags. Game interaction methods should be tested out by using outsized or table-based interfaces before attempting to make 1:1 scale products.

Initial prototypes should use self-contained low frequency RFID readers and transponders (Phidgets or ID12s) but keep in mind that NFC mobile phones might also fit into this product mix at some point in the future, with the ability to download settings, upgrades, power-ups or new behaviour from the internet via the phone for instance.


Brio Network. “A railway system based on the metaphor for the construction of a computer. The Network-world consists of ordinary wooden railway tracks and funky, small characters that live inside your computer.”

Nabaztag/tag / Video demo “Through this first iconic object, we are exploring the “Internet of things,” or life after the PC-centric world. Our mission is to invent new objects that enable technologies, services and experiences to make the real world in which we live more intelligent, interactive, ambient, networked, rich, emotional, personalized, smart and fun.”

Mattel Hyperscan review “Toward the end of our testing period, my friend Cameron wanted to play computer-based fighting games instead. As for me, I was ready to go read a book.”

Treat your sick doll with rfid. “According to symptoms, kids must use one of the items including “syringe,” “candy” and “medicine.” The doll reads RFID tags embedded in these items and responds accordingly.”

Little Tikes MagiCook Kitchen “Comes with pretend food embedded with electronic tags (RFID) that can be read by sensors on the stovetop which then respond with the appropriate comment.”

3C products. “The confluence of social software and physical computing, as a way of making products that exist in our sensory worlds, and can therefore be part of our social experience of the environment (think activities like giving and hiding, and abilities such as peripheral vision). I’d point at both Availabot and Jaiku here.

RFID toys. “Contains step by step guides to building various RFID based projects, and stresses the concepts involved as well as the steps themselves.”

The coming age of magic “What’s interesting about how animism relates to ubicomp is not that it literally represents people’s relationship to embedded information processing, but that it may represent at a gut level how people relate to all objects that exhibit behaviors which go beyond basic action-reaction physics.” See also presentation here.

Adam Greenfield on animism Some thoughts on animism and magic in interaction design (read also the comments here )

See also references in the Connected products brief.

Read more about these design briefs.

Related things:

  1. Playful augmented products This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating. It extends an older brief Playful RFID with an emphasis on exploring material and experience prototyping. Last week Interaction......
  2. Connected products This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating. RFID may begin to enable cheap – even disposable – products that have identities and connections to a network.......
  3. Playful augmented products workshop Interaction Design students at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design participated in a three-day Touch workshop where the brief was to design a playful, exploratory or characterful RFID interface. The emphasis of this......
  4. More RFID-based products A Dutch company, Swinxs is developing a physical RFID-based console with RFID wristbands for children. They claim to be encouraging physical activities and ‘stimulating imagination’. The console includes versions of Tag, multiple Quiz games,......
  5. Designing with RFID In Designing with RFID we explore the potential for RFID objects in everyday contexts. Because RFID is a wireless, radio-based technology it is inherently invisible once embedded, and this raises issues around visibility and......

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4 Trackbacks

  1. By Touch design briefs · Touch on 5 July 2007 at 13:57

    [...] Playful RFID [...]

  2. By links for 2007-07-12 (Leapfroglog) on 12 July 2007 at 7:29

    [...] Playful RFID · Touch Interesting (and fun) design brief on creating toys and games using RFID. (tags: RFID NFC mobile tangible locative games play toys gaming) [...]

  3. By Bowl: Token-based media for children · Touch on 1 September 2008 at 21:34

    [...] Knutsen and Timo Arnall and investigated two design briefs: RFID and the everyday and Playful RFID. The concept, technicalities, process and results are described in detail in the paper at the end [...]

  4. By Playful augmented products · Touch on 13 February 2009 at 16:10

    [...] design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating. It extends an older brief Playful RFID with an emphasis on exploring material and experience [...]

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