Tokyo launches trial NFC-based mobile guide service

The city has posted NFC tags in the Ginza shopping district for consumers to find their way around with a special Android app

The Tokyo government has posted nearly 300 NFC location tags around the upscale Ginza shopping district and released an Android app to interact with them as part of an experiment to help guide shoppers.

The latest trial, part of the city's ongoing experiments with integrating mobile phones into city life, is aimed at providing a number of alternative routes to users with various mobility needs, even through train stations and minor streets.

The Android app, available in Japanese from the Google Play store, allows users to search and pick from a number of preset destinations in Ginza. Users then choose from options including "wheelchair" and "elderly" and tap a nearby NFC tag, and the app calculates a detailed route, accounting for stairs and other obstacles as needed.

The experiment began Tuesday and runs through March 31.

The app calculates routes based on publicly available government data, using the NFC tags to accurately determine the starting point of a route, which can be difficult underground. The city has placed the tags along the streets, near popular shops, and near public transportation such as bus stops and train stations.

NFC, or "near field communication" technology is standard on Japanese phones, where it is used for train passes as well as small purchases from vending machines and convenience stores. Many businesses also have NFC-based displays that zip information to users' phones when tapped.

The trial uses "ucodeNFC tags," which use the ucode system for assigning unique digital identifiers to places and things in the real world. Ucode is administered by the Ubiquitous ID Center in Tokyo.

The local Tokyo government, together with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is sponsoring the test. It is part of an ongoing effort called the "Tokyo Ubiquitous Project, Ginza" to bring mobile computing to the streets of the city.

Ginza is one of Tokyo's main tourist attractions, with traditional Japanese department stores as well as high-end foreign retailers.

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