Change the (Card) Game with NFC

Innovation is part of SMARTRAC’s DNA – as is close partnerships with its customers. The recently announced exclusive cooperation with Cartamundi, the worldwide leader in the production and sale of playing cards, collectable cards and cards for board games, is a great example of both.


SMARTRAC and Cartamundi will jointly develop NFC inlays that are small, thin and inexpensive enough to be embedded in standard cards, such as sports trading cards, playing cards and game cards, which can act as active elements in console and smartphone games. Through this cooperation, the two leaders of their respective industries are joining forces to leverage and drive the growth of the global gaming market.


Such NFC inlays need to be particularly thin and inexpensive, without sacrificing functionality and reliability. For mobile gaming brands and developers, NFC-equipped cards will open up exciting new possibilities for both physical and virtual gaming, and create new revenue streams from additional licensing opportunities. As an additional benefit, NFC can also facilitate brand protection and further enhance product authentication.


The Future is There – Almost


Cartamundi already makes NFC-enabled cards for use in casinos, most commonly to enable a casino's software to identify cards during tournaments. These, however, are not standard cards. The NFC chips on the market are currently too bulky and – maybe even more importantly –  too expensive to be built into the majority of standard-size playing cards.

Cartamundi and SMARTRAC aim to make such standard cards easily NFC-enabled as well, by creating an NFC chip that is thin enough to be undetectable in paper cards, and sufficiently inexpensive so that Cartamundi can make the cards affordable to consumers. Tom Kestens, Conversation Manager at Cartamundi, says: "For us, it's all about lowering the bar to make the technology available to everyone. Our ultimate goal is for the most flexible, thinnest and cheapest NFC chip in the world."


SMARTRAC is working to make that happen, according to Mikko Nikkanen, Senior Director, Segment Industry, Electronics and Gaming at SMARTRAC: “Our goal is to develop a tag that can be embedded in any standard-size card. And we are proud to pursue that goal in close cooperation with an undisputed leader like Cartamundi, which sells around 15 billion cards annually.”


Looking at the Day after Tomorrow

No matter how much SMARTRAC can extract from today’s technology, it’s hard to imagine putting NFC inlays into each and every card in a standard playing-card deck, which typically contains 52 cards. To make this an economically feasible option, there has to be quantum leap in technology, since there is no reason to believe that silicon-based chips and conventional antennas will drop in price so radically anytime soon.


Fortunately, an advanced alternative technology for ultra-low-cost NFC inlays is available, but has not yet reached the market in volume: (printed) thin-film electronics technology (TFT).


To bring these flexible electronics from the lab to mainstream markets, Cartamundi, SMARTRAC and four other companies have launched the PING (Printed Intelligent NFC Game cards and packaging) consortium. Supported by the European Commission, PING’s overall goal is the creation of a platform that enables and facilitates the production of smart printed objects, like playing cards, based on flexible thin-film electronics. Such new technologies are a prerequisite to expanding the Internet of Things to inexpensive, very high-volume printed objects like cards, stickers and packaging.


Continuing to Be the Leader

As part of the PING consortium, SMARTRAC will contribute its expertise in antenna design and printing technologies, with a special focus on the connection interface between the printed antenna and TFT electronics. Leveraging its own industry-leading R&D resources, cooperating with strong partners such as Cartamundi, and contributing to initiatives like the PING consortium, SMARTRAC is set to continue leading NFC and RFID technology developments – even the day after tomorrow.


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