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10 July, 2014 - 19:21 By Tony Quested

Ex-ARM man seeks £20k crowdfunding for NFC gamechanger

Donatien-AppNearMe

A Cambridge UK technology startup founded by a former ARM employee has launched a Kickstarter campaign to commercialise a development platform enabling people and companies to create sensors and actuators that can be controlled using Near Field Communication (NFC) and an Android phone or tablet.

AppNearMe, based at ideaSpace, says it has created the world's first integrated and open-source solution to create NFC-enabled devices for the Internet of Things. It is seeking £20k and has so far raised around £4,500 from 111 backers.

Its MicroNFCBoard is an integrated development platform that contains an NFC transceiver, a microcontroller and all the software required to use NFC.

French born founder Donatien Garnier says the platform can be used with an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, mbed or PC/Mac. There is also a powerful ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller onboard so it can work on its own and users can connect “a bunch of things” to the board using its various peripherals, Garnier says.

AppNearMe has already built several demos, including:-

• Piloting a robot with NFC tags

• Transferring a Youtube video from an Android phone to a Raspberry Pi

• Controlling a mood lamp in real time with an Android phone

• Visualising light and temperature sensors’ data in real-time with an Android phone 

• Ability to log into your Raspberry Pi using NFC tags or your NFC phone

If the Kickstarter campaign proves successful the business will release the board's firmware under an open-source licence and will also make the board's schematics and design open-source.

Many NFC-enabled boards are mostly built around the PN532 chip and readers are available online, but Garnier argues that the software that can be used with them is very limited, especially with an Arduino.

MicroNFCBoard has an onboard microcontroller that takes care of all NFC-related processing – including critical timings – and offers support for all NFC modes with an easy to use API.

You can also add your own code on the microcontroller to use the board in an autonomous fashion! Finally, the company will provide AppNearMe mode, which it claims is unique.

AppNearMe mode allows you to easily visualise your device's inputs and control its outputs through a NFC-enabled Android app. You only have to ‘describe‘ these inputs/outputs in your code and choose which type of widgets to display on the app. AppNearMe mode makes it really easy to add an external UI to your project, Garnier adds.

The board is mbed-enabled, which means you can use the mbed online IDE and libraries to create programs for the board. To flash the board, connect it to your computer via USB and it will appear as a mass storage device onto which you can drag 'n' drop your program.

NFC is a radio technology that allows two devices to exchange data by touching each other and, as such, is an integral element in the multi-trillion dollar M2M connectivity at the heart of the IoT.

Garnier graduated from Ecole Centrale Paris’ engineering school with an MSc Eng in late 2011. He did an internship with ARM in 2010 and then contracted for them in 2012 till early 2013.

“At these times I realised that Cambridge was the perfect place to create a hi-tech startup (with both software and hardware aspects) because of the quality of the ecosystem and availability of talents,” he says.

At the moment AppNearMe is a one-man company but the founder has been making use of subcontractors and wants to get other people onboard in the near future.

The Kickstarter cash will be used for financing the manufacturing of the first batch of the product and also finishing the software development and documentation work. Kickstarter is also regarded as “a great way to validate market demand, build an audience and get feedback on the product.”

The Kickstarter funding would be the company’s first investment although Garnier says AppNearMe is already financially viable through consultancy contracts and the licensing of its NFC software.

“However I wanted to turn AppNearMe into a product-based, more scalable business. I would like to validate the market and product before turning to some more classic routes for investment, such as angel funding, to accelerate the growth of the business.

“We are addressing a subset of the Internet of Things market which will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020 according to market research firm IDC.

“What we argue is that some IoT devices do not need to be connected to a network all the time, especially for maintenance and configuration purposes, where accessing a device's data mostly makes sense when it is in front of you.

“We are therefore addressing a market that we would call the proximity-based Internet of Things market. We want the company to be addressing a global audience from the start and it has been really interesting to see how widespread around the world our backers are - with Europe and the US still being the bigger audience, but roughly 20 per cent of the backers being from Asia and South-America.

“Our long-term objective is to become the reference platform for proximity-based interactions with devices. Cambridge seems to have been tailored as the perfect launchpad to start and grow ventures like ours.”

 

• The Kickstarter campaign is live here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/donatien-garnier/micronfcboard-easy-nfc-for-the-internet-of-things/

 

* The new demo involving a Raspberry Pi is at

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/donatien-garnier/micronfcboard-easy-nfc-for-the-internet-of-things/posts/905570

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