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EETE NOV 2015

smartcity exhibition NFC concrete slabs for a smart city By Julien Happich A spin off from French urban furniture provider Récréation Urbaine, Blocparc was created in 2009 to promote a rugged and reconfigurable urban furniture made of heavy concrete blocks (over a ton each). The tainted concrete blocks come in different shapes, with integrated metal corners to withstand the harshest of city abuses, including skaters’ grinds and BMXers’ pegs. More recently, the startup completed its portfolio with NFC-ready urban furniture under the Blocparc Connect 3.0 brand. During the SmartCity exhibition taking place in Paris this week, EETimes Europe met with Business Manager Jean Fouriscot demonstrating these connected blocks. The idea is very simple, NFC chips are embedded in the concrete, and easy to interpret printed or 3D embossed logos on the surface indicate the presence of NFC-accessible services such as local transport information, local tourist information, emergency services, or even multimedia content (this could also be derived from advertising). Made in China, the passive NFC chips are low cost and low tech, explained Fouriscot, all the company’s IP is in the implementation. Blocparc receives the chips and applies a proprietary encapsulation treatment so they can withstand their subsequent integration into concrete. Fouriscot wouldn’t say how deep under the surface the NFC chips lay, only noting that the concrete thickness over the chip varied depending on the actual material density and that working out a functional design had been the result of a lot of experimentation. In essence, each underlying tag only redirects NFC-enabled smartphones to a unique URL in a database, to which the company can attribute any webpage or information portal its customers want to put forward. No app to download, simple, robust and re-configurable in the cloud for as many new use cases a city may want to implement. For NFC-deprived Apple phone users out there, the company has engraved a QR code on each slab that direct them to a more generic portal regrouping the different tags under a menu. Blocparc sells the bomb-proof custom tainted furniture (from 2000 to 4000 euros for a bench depending on the size and number of embedded tags) and services the tags’ database and access analytics for a monthly fee (between 30 to 40 euros for about six tags we were told). Fouriscot doesn’t discard localized advertising as part of the company’s business model, though, the tags’ redirections would belong to whoever pays the bills. The furniture has already been tested one year in Paris, including six months in front of two universities and the demographics there didn’t require any explanations, he saids. He believes the company is well positioned to fulfil Paris’ ambition to become a connected city. Blocparc’s competitors in the connected urban furniture landscape often rely on more expensive and damage-prone touchscreen user interfaces that require cabling. “Not only installation is costly and inflexible when powered displays are involved, but it only takes one riot or a violent protest to see your typical smart bus stop or information display being smashed up” noted the business manager, alluding to JC Decaux’s advertising displays. “Another interesting observation we made during our trial projects, is that if for any reason users can’t read a tag, they don’t necessarily get frustrated, they assume their phone may not be receiving a strong signal and they just leave it as it is. Whereas with more sophisticated and damage-prone interfaces, any malfunction can create frustration and possibly anger that can easily translate into a destructive behaviour.” But street furniture goes beyond concrete benches and garden boxes at Blocparc. The company also offers colour screen printed information slabs of any size, and more interestingly, simple information slabs that could be integrated into any building, say at the entrance. “You could have one of those information signs by any front door, either redirecting passers-by to historic information about the building, or landing a web page with a login for privileged information access”, said Fouriscot, holding a tagged concrete block in his hand. “For example, firemen and emergency services could have an exclusive access to the building’s plans, or the residents could have access to a community page”, he added as prospective use cases. Again, the clever thing about this service is that while each tag is set in stone, the associated web page can be flexibly updated for new services as novel ideas crop up. 4 Electronic Engineering Times Europe November 2015 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE NOV 2015
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