RFID sniffer workshop

Mediamatic is organising two RFID Sniffer workshops in Amsterdam on Friday March 27 or on Saturday April 4 2009. At this workshop you can assemble your own RFID Sniffer circuit with designer Marc Boon.


The RFID sniffer is a simple analog electronic circuit which can detect the presence of 13.56 MHz RFID tags. These tags are commonly used in all kinds of plastic cards like access badges, bank cards, library cards, loyalty cards and so on.

RFID is everywhere. Use the easy to build RFID sniffer to find out if objects are tagged. Also many other objects may carry RFID tags without you knowing it. Books, toys, and even clothing might be tagged. Carrying tagged objects with you can reveal your identity or whereabouts to anyone equipped with the appropiate tools to read RFID tags. The RFID sniffer helps you identify which objects are tagged, and which are not.


Looks like a great workshop! And the Sniffers are available to buy from here.

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Pling Plong

Silje Softing’s project Pling Plong from last year’s Touch course is a soft pillow that plays back audiobooks based on the physical objects or books that are placed on it.


Silje writes:

“Pling Plong is a media player for stories and sounds, placed inside a pillow. It is designed for the home environment and is meant to stimulate children’s imagination and interest for books. Its low-tech appearance in form, material and its simple functions makes the pillow seem magical. The fact that you can lay your head on it makes the toy very calming and it is meant for relaxing play alone.”

Pling Plong is a simple but carefully crafted product, where everything from the textures of the fabric, to the graspability of the audiobook tokens to the sound design and audio levels have been explored and refined.

Pling plong reading to Filippa

A video shows Silje’s experiments with characterful faces for the pillow, showing some of the exploration of different metaphors for RFID that are important aspects of making contactless interaction understandable and playful.

Pling Plong has been receiving a lot of attention online recently, being picked up by Trendhunter, Coolgadgetconcept, Yankodesign, Crecebebe, Talk2myshirt, Techviva, Ubergizmo, Weirdgizmos and more.

Some comments:

“The “low-tech appearance” should be given some stormy applause, because toys nowadays have nothing to do with the idea of play and having a good time.”

“We had our share on interactive pillow coverage like illuminated pillows or sound pillows but the Pling Plong pillow created by Silje Softing sticks out by it’s playful use of ’soft’ low tech to give an twist to the story telling for small children.”

“I hope that this will soon make its way to market and finally to our homes. I don’t have any kids but I’ll surely love a pillow that can sing to me!”

“Hurry up Silje Softing and find someone to manufacture this already! It could be the next big thing this holiday season.”

Silje’s weblog documents some of the making process, there are more photos of Pling Plong and a gallery making pictures here.

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Tangible and Embedded Interaction 2009

We recently presented our paper Designing with RFID at the Tangible and Embedded Interaction conference in Cambridge UK. This presentation was part of a session on ‘enabling technologies and design techniques’. The presentation focused on how we look at the physical aspects of RFID form through design.

Designing with RFID

The full presentation is available on Slideshare and you can read more about the paper here.

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Re/Touch: Inspiring touch-related interaction design

Do Not Touch by Sameer D'Costa

One of the things that social and cultural research on touch attempts to grapple with is everything people are supposed to touch and not supposed to touch—and what we actually end up touching or not touching in any given situation. When I first saw Sameer D’Costa’s photo on Flickr, it reminded me of people’s desire to touch things that we aren’t supposed to, and I wondered what that might mean in terms of research.

A year later we’re excited to share the result of that wondering: re/touch, an online resource for designers and researchers interested in touch-based interactions and relations. As the action of touch is technologically mediated by both contactless interactions in the world and through multi-touch on screen, awareness and reflection on the richness of touch is becoming increasingly important.

The re/touch website

re/touch brings together hundreds of cross-cultural examples of social norms and values involving touch—all categorised according to actions related to touching.

Tag cloud

A collection of quotes from ethnographic accounts written between the late 1800s and the present, re/touch encourages designers and researchers to explore how touch is used by people to relate to one another and the worlds in which we live.

Sample quote

You can browse the quotes to create design briefs, refine interaction scenarios or otherwise inspire you to think, make or do things touch-related.

About the project

We like to think of re/touch as a work-in-progress. So far, it contains almost five hundred quotes from dozens of cultural groups around the world, and we’re working to add more. As the collection grows, we expect the action tags to change as well, so over the next couple of months you may notice different words in the tag cloud. In the end, we anticipate having over one thousand quotes and more than fifty categories of touch-related action.

The re/touch website also includes some background information on the content, and we plan to publish a paper on the research methodology and some thoughts on collaborations between anthropology and design.

If you notice any database problems or errors, please leave a comment below and we’ll look into it. We’re also still working on the web design—including making the site work well and look good on the iPhone—so we’d certainly appreciate any feedback you might have along those lines as well.

Ultimately, we hope you’ll find this resource as interesting and inspiring as we do!

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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 interaction. How does the addition of hidden interactive qualities influence the design of physical RFID objects? There is a need to develop tangible design qualities such as shape, materials, build quality and affordances for RFID-enabled objects.

In this process we explore ways in which RFID objects can be designed to balance various physical and digital qualities. This approach has illuminated opportunities and constraints in designing augmented objects that enriches the vocabulary around RFID for industrial and interaction designers where physical and visual material are essential elements.

RFID things (1 of 96)

RFID is most commonly used by consumers for ticketing, payments and access control. The design challenges in these contexts has concentrated on infrastructures and systems as opposed to the design of physical tokens. The design of these objects is limited to simple, mostly flat enclosures; cards, key-fobs or stickers.

The bare RFID tag itself does not offer significant meaning beyond its technical appearance. In order to create meaningful relationships towards these objects, RFID tags must be embedded in an object or signified by shape or sign. The physical design of most current RFID objects are limited to the form factors of the protective encapsulation of the tag. It remains at the simple level of encapsulation and packaging that does not yet address the wide range of physical possibilities for objects in everyday contexts.

Product review

To understand the ways that RFID tags have been designed into consumer products, we conducted a product review that documents the physical aspects of RFID products from around the world. This has been a process of reflection on existing industrial and consumer products that includes a range of cards, keyfobs and tokens, the Mattel Hyperscan games console, Star Wars Commtech figures, Brio Network, Violet Ztamps and other RFID peripherals.

RFID things (28 of 96)RFID things (39 of 96)RFID things (58 of 96)RFID things (77 of 96)

The product review shows many uses for RFID but limited exploration of design qualities such as materials, shape, size, construction, manufacture, build quality, affordance or metaphors. But the potential for RFID in consumer products is significant, given the inexpensive hardware of RFID systems and the opportunity to enable digital interactions with even the simplest of objects. The technical properties of RFID, such as the batteryless tags which allow for cheap and maintenance free operation are perhaps the most significant opportunity for playful products and toys.

Form experiments

The intention for this series of experiments was to gain a rich working knowledge of the kinds of design qualities that RFID objects may embody. We used an explorative design approach to the physical aspects of RFID and this involved a process of prototyping, where physical RFID objects were built and evaluated in the Bowl environment. Through a sketching process we developed an understanding of the relationships between physical forms and tags. Form-explorations were then used to visualise findings, to generate further models and to examine surface qualities.

RFID things (86 of 96)

This approach has illuminated opportunities and constraints in designing physical RFID objects that now need to be translated into patterns and models that are useful for interaction and industrial design. See the full paper below for more detail around the objects, sketches and models.

Literal associations

The interactions and gestures that have been learned over time for such objects as dolls, toys, chesspieces, microphones, shower heads, telephones, flashlights, magnifying glasses, spraycans, screwdrivers, hammers, kitchen utensils, stamps, and handles, with gestures like stirring, pointing, poking, drawing and shaking are useful starting points for imagining RFID objects and interactions.

Two very distinct kinds of gestures emerged from our workshops and experiments with the Bowl and Orooni Table interfaces. These gestures are pick and place (eg. moving a chess piece) and grab and point (eg. waving a wand).

A form vocabulary for RFID

Designing new gestures, taxonomies of form and affordances specifically for RFID will come only from designing a new set of objects, with their own elements and properties. Through the process of designing new RFID objects we uncovered properties such as direction, balance, similarity and geometry. Here we see some of the variations and abstractions around the elements of RFID form. This is the beginning of a form vocabulary for RFID including balance, similarity, direction and multi-direction.

RFID objects

Through introducing RFID as an element that influences the shape of physical products, we begin to design an inspirational or generative set of forms for RFID-enabled objects. They effectively communicate the physical aspects of the design findings and help us to evaluate and refine a vocabulary of forms.


As the internet of things emerges as an increasingly important discourse within research and consumer products, the design of the RFID things themselves needs to be addressed. Our practice-driven approach involving products, models, objects and visualisations has resulted in a vision for an ‘internet of things’ that places designed things in the centre.

A hands-on approach has allowed a re-evaluation of RFID technology through the lens of design, and communication of this in design-focused language. Through a process of making, evaluation and communicating a number of artefacts and an emergent design vocabulary is being built, that talks to the needs and concerns of interaction and industrial designers.

These making, sketching and visualisation processes may also be important for the design of emerging technologies in general. With the increasing implementation of networked and interactive technology in consumer electronics, aspects of digital and physical design will increasingly need to be addressed by both industrial and interaction designers. Physical design is a critical part of the way in which tangible technologies are experienced, and by allowing design processes to guide product development we are able to approach emerging technology in a plausible and understandable way.

Full paper

‘Designing with RFID’ is being presented at Tangible & Embedded Interaction 2009 in Cambridge UK.


The paper contains a full account of the product review, the sketching, making and modelling, and conclusions around the design for RFID objects. The paper from the Tangible and Embedded Interaction conference will be available at the ACM digital library. You can also download the full PDF here.

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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 workshop was on exploring the relationship between material, tactile properties of physical objects and digital interaction through RFID and required material experiments made to a high level.

This video shows some of the student’s process, starting with a conceptual session where ideas were sketched on paper and enacted through props. A process of making followed in the wood, plastics and clay workshops where the products took shape. Finally the products are presented as experience prototypes.

06 February, 11.41

Le Chef by Marius and Bilal. A product designed for the kitchen that ‘licks’ various ingredients and suggests recipes.

06 February, 12.54

Poke a pig by Kjetil and Erik. A wooden pig that plays different sounds to different types of attention: a hand for petting, an apple for feeding, etc.

06 February, 13.33

Star pillows by Elisa and Ane. Explored soft materials and audiovisual content for relaxing.

Musicology by Ingrid and Silje. Explored modular shapes and objects for playing playlists from last.fm.

06 February, 13.14

Mood cup by Miray and Ruben. Personalised (or customisable) cups that play back different playlists from last.fm.

06 February, 13.03

Musicframes by Astrid and Stine. A wall of photos each linked to a music file that has personal meaning connected to the photo.

06 February, 11.52

The farm by Karin and Brynjar. An ‘Interactive storytelling space for children’ where animals crossing a river trigger sounds or audiobook content.

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Touch. Or sight, smell, taste

The dominant metaphor for RFID interaction is touch where the gesture of touching or the contact between two objects is seen as a suitable model for near field interactions. However touch may be a limiting metaphor for RFID interfaces, in that it doesn’t suggest the possible range of interactions that RFID affords.

Three recent Touch projects suggest different senses as metaphors for physical RFID interaction:

Silje Søftings Pling Plong project uses an eye as the ‘reader’ of audiobook tokens.

Starting playing

Bilal Chaudhry & Marius Johansen’s project Le Chef uses a huge tongue giving the appearance that the chef character is tasting the food tokens that are placed on it.

06 February, 12.02

Sara Johansson’s Sniff project uses the nose of a toy dog as the reader, giving the impression that the dog is sniffing token objects.

Sniff RFID reading dog

Are these other human senses more successful than touch in creating the right kind of metaphors for RFID interaction? Can we use human senses as metaphors to create a richer design space for RFID, or does the inspiration have to come from somewhere else?

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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 Design students at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design participated in a Touch workshop where the brief was to design a playful, exploratory or characterful RFID interface. The emphasis of this workshop was on exploring the relationship between digital interaction through RFID and the material properties of physical objects.

The brief

This week we will be working with a technology called Radio Frequency IDentification or RFID. RFID is exciting for industrial and interaction designers because it is a cheap and simple technology that allows us to build quite advanced gestural and tangible interfaces. When an RFID tag is in the range of an RFID reader (usually about 10cm) it communicates a tiny amount of information, a simple short code that lets the computer know that it is present. This is usually used to identify an object, person or animal, for instance to open a door, to find the owner of a lost pet, to pay for a ticket, or to know if a product that is passing out of a shop door has been paid for.

05 March, 15.09

RFID tags are tiny, fairly cheap and don’t require a battery. They can be embedded inside all sorts of materials easily and without much effort. RFID readers are also small and flat, enabling them to be embedded easily below surfaces such as wood, concrete or plastics. The only physical limitations are metal and water, which absorb radio signals and stop RFID systems from working effectively.

Designing playful RFID

You will design a physical interface that involves a reader, a few tags and a Tikitag application.

Industrial and interaction designer’s haven’t been working with RFID for very long. So RFID systems are usually dull and lifeless, with ordinary plastic or paper tags and flat plastic readers. There needs to be more experimentation with the physical aspects of RFID interfaces in applications such as toys, appliances and domestic interfaces. There may be great playful applications of the technology that have not yet been explored.

RFID things (59 of 96)

You must design the physical relationship between the tag, the reader and the resulting action. Your objects must be finished with quality and material choices that match the intended use and context of the application (such as waterproof plastics for the bathroom or turned wood for the coffeetable).


You will each choose a different application from our list of Tikitag applications. Sketch out ten ways in which the tags and the reader in that application should look, feel and behave. What kind of approach is most suitable? Should it be characterful, understated, loud? What other kinds of objects should it reference? List out the kind of materials that would be suitable for such an application.

Design one set of tags and a reader for your application. Think about size, shape, durability, surface texture, and the relationship between the reader and the tag. How do the objects relate to each other? How do the objects and the reader fit together? What metaphors and associations can you draw upon, are they like keys, do they encourage swiping, caressing, tickling? How will a user manipulate the objects? Will they have to place them in certain positions or sequences to achieve different results?


Bowl: Token based media for children

Designing with RFID

RFID peripherals

RFID and unique physical form

Images of touch interfaces

Previous ‘Touch’ student prototypes

Qubi - Tangible colour game


Storytelling pillow

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