How does RFID and NFC work?

Both RFID and NFC are commonly used technologies to transmit small bits of data or other information. Examples of this include: contact information, secure payment authentication, user badge identification, etc. Although RFID and NFC are similar in practice, their implementations can vary.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification and can be used at varying distances, depending on the frequency it is operating at. LF (Low Frequency) can operate at up to 10 centimeters, HF (High Frequency) can operate up to 30 centimeters, and finally UHF (Ultra High Frequency) can operate up to 100 meters. Another attribute of RFID is its ability to be deployed in either active or passive forms. Active means that the tag has its own power source, which can allow it to be detected among other RFID devices without close contact. Passive tags can only transmit information when they receive power from an external reader. This limitation makes it ideal for close range activity, such as an employee badge to unlock access to a company building.

NFC is a subset of RFID because it acts in a similar fashion to transfer information. NFC operates at the same frequency as HF RFID (13.56 MHz) and can act as a reader and a tag.  If you have an iPhone and ever used Apple Pay before, the contactless payment terminal acts as a reader for your phone to send stored credit card information to. If you’re an Android user, you might have seen the NFC icon in the status bar or commercials where people beam contact information and pictures to one another by tapping phones. In this case, one phone acts as a sender and one as a receiver, making close proximity data transfer possible.

As the world evolves, RFID and NFC will be the standard for information transfer without wires due to the convenience and simplicity. Along the way however, security needs to follow due to some implementations of RFID/NFC having vulnerabilities that can be catastrophic if exploited. It’s recommended that people buy wallets that have RFID blocking technology as hackers have been stealing credit card information from contactless cards without much difficulty. Security and precautions like this will need to be improved if we want a contactless future.

Here is an infographic that details the main differences between the two technologies and their uses:

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OnePlus 7 and 7 Pro Leaks

On May 14th, OnePlus is reportedly going to be releasing 2  new phones: the OnePlus 7 Standard Edition and Pro Edition. They’ve been some leaks regarding the specifications and design so far, and I’ve compiled them below.

OnePlus 7 Pro: Nebula Blue and Mirror Grey

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Supposed Motorized Camera System:

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Specs:

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Judging from only the specs and design, I think these phones have a lot of potential, assuming they hit a good price point.

While these are just leaks, I am sure there will be more surprises at the event, which you can steam here if you are interested: YouTube

Sunday Tech Byte: Google ARCore…what is it?

Basically, ARCore is Google’s platform for building augmented reality experiences. Using different APIs, ARCore enables your phone to sense its environment, understand the world and interact with information. Some of the APIs are available across Android and iOS to enable shared AR experiences.

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ARCore uses three different ways to mix the real world with virtual content.

These include

  • Motion tracking allows the phone to understand and track its position relative to the world.
  • Environmental understanding allows the phone to detect the size and location of all type of surfaces: horizontal, vertical and angled surfaces like the ground, a coffee table or walls.
  • Light estimation allows the phone to estimate the environment’s current lighting conditions.

ARCore is designed to work on many of the latest flagship smartphones, most of which that run above Android 7.0 (Nougat).

How does it work?

Fundamentally, ARCore is doing two things: tracking the position of the mobile device as it moves, and building its own understanding of the real world.

ARCore’s motion tracking technology uses the phone’s camera to identify interesting points, called features, and tracks how those points move over time. With a combination of the movement of these points and readings from the phone’s inertial sensors, ARCore determines both the position and orientation of the phone as it moves through space.

In addition to identifying key points, ARCore can detect flat surfaces, like a table or the floor, and can also estimate the average lighting in the area around it. These capabilities combine to enable ARCore to build its own understanding of the world around it.

ARCore’s understanding of the real world lets you place objects, annotations, or other information in a way that integrates seamlessly with the real world. You can place a napping kitten on the corner of your coffee table, or annotate a painting with biographical information about the artist. Motion tracking means that you can move around and view these objects from any angle, and even if you turn around and leave the room, when you come back, the kitten or annotation will be right where you left it.

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Sunday Tech Byte: Secure Mobile Payments

As we move towards the future, emerging mobile payment technologies are trying to change the way we spend money and hopefully simplify it. Companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google have all launched their own versions of this concept.

One thing that they all do similarly is how they process your payments. Once you link a card to the app, you can pay at millions of stores through NFC or MST (for Samsung phones). The phone transmits a tokenized version of your card number, to the payment terminal, which keeps the entire transaction secure. This token is then refreshed for the next payment. If a company gets hacked and card details get leaked, the thief won’t be able to use it as it can only be used once. Mobile payments also require you to use more advanced forms of identification. Compared to a debit card where a 4 digit pin is required, biometric authentication can be set as default for mobile payments.

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The only limitations that come with using a phone to pay is that it is not accepted everywhere. Some companies such as Samsung are using new technology like MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) to make it possible to pay anywhere a card can be used. As time passes, these limitations will likely disappear and retailers will adapt to this more secure standard.

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Sunday Tech Byte: The new OnePlus 6T: McLaren Edition

On December 11th, OnePlus released their new phone, built in collaboration with McLaren, a well known sports car company. When compared to the regular 6T, it’s got a couple of advantages that make it worth the price. For the price of $699 USD, you get a phone with a Snapdragon 845, 10 GB of RAM, and their new Warp Charge technology. It also has a special carbon fiber finish with orange accented borders, which is a tribute to McLaren’s classic “Papaya Orange” color.

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The unboxing experience of the phone also looks to be very premium and has a fine attention to detail. Included are a special braided USB C cable and wall adapter, both in a black and orange color combo. A small clear acrylic collector’s item is included, with a carbon fiber covered McLaren logo suspended in it.

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All of this comes at a mere $699, which is priced below even regular editions of flagship phones, such as the iPhone XS and Pixel 3. For the performance you get at this cost, it’s a great purchase for anyone in the market for a new, well designed phone.

Sunday Tech Byte: What is a SIM card?

SIM cards are tiny objects we insert into our phones and often forget about them. While they seem like they don’t do much, we wouldn’t be able to make calls, text people, or surf the internet on our phones. SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module, which basically means it’s responsible for telling the cell towers around you about who you really are. The phone plan you pay for every month is connected to this card, so when you make a call, text, or use data, the tower will contact your provider to see if you have enough minutes, texts, or bytes remaining to complete your request.

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SIM cards are usually only used in GSM phones, while CDMA phones have a built in equivalent. They often come in 3 different shapes as well: Mini/Standard, Micro and Nano. Most phones at the time of this writing use Nano SIM cards to save space in the phone for other components.

Most SIM cards can hold a couple hundred kilobytes of data, which can be text messages, contacts, or most importantly, your phone number. This makes swapping cell service between different phones simple, as all you would need to do is take out the SIM from one and place it in the other. You would wait for the new phone to register on the network and you would be good to go!

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As you can see, SIM cards essential to the functioning of our smartphones, and have been a very useful invention in the past few decades.

Sunday Tech Byte: What is a Remote Access Trojan/Tool or RAT?

I am starting a new series of blog posts, where I will upload a new quick read on Sundays. This week’s topic is the basics of what a RAT is.

A Remote Access Trojan or Tool (RAT) is a malware program that includes a backdoor for administrative control over a target computer. RATs can be bundled with files of all kinds, such as pictures, games, or application install files. Usually, having an antivirus can detect if any malicious files or code has been downloaded to your machine. Often times however, these clever hackers bypass it using a method called crypting, which scrambles the code of the program and makes it invisible to the computer.

Once the RAT is activated, it maintains a low profile on the computer. It lurks until it receives commands from the attackers computer. Attackers have the power to do things such as track keystrokes, take pictures/videos with the webcam, steal passwords, or install other software. This is all done without the user knowing, which makes the tool very powerful and dangerous.

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There are a multitude of these free RATs that can be downloaded online, which themselves can have a lot of malware on them. Make sure to avoid them at all costs.

Only download files from trusted sources online. Be sure to keep your eye out for any suspicious files and have a decent antivirus installed, because it could save you from getting attacked by this common method.

MedTrack – TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 Hackathon

Recently, I participated in an online hackathon held by Devpost and TechCrunch. There were many different sponsors that asked the participants to create solutions that revolved around their products. From the list, I found the Novartis Medical Challenge to be the most interesting and practical due to the end product being able to help patients who are susceptible to heart failure.

I studied different ways that could help patients in an intuitive and noninvasive way and saw that building an app that you could set once and never have to think about again would be ideal. This would be the best way to minimize user interaction while still providing critical information to patients.

With this knowledge, I decided to create an app that would function as a way to remind people when to take their medicines and also serve as a way to monitor their cardiovascular health. Using Android Studio and many open source libraries helped aid my creation. I worked on the app continuously for three days and eventually created a functioning prototype with many features such as reminder alarms, database integration, and bar-code scanning.

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Here is an excerpt from my submission on how it works and what it is:

MedTrack is an app that intelligently reminds you when it’s time to take critical medications while monitoring cardiovascular health. As a patient, you would first open up the app and be greeted by a welcome screen. These screens demonstrate the basic functions of the app and how to navigate the UI. Once this is complete, you can go to the medicines section and add your medicines by typing or scanning a barcode (specify the name, type, and quantity remaining for each). After you enter the details, you can select each medicine for an overview of what it is/more information by clicking the leaflet that is pulled from the database (setup in settings). Now it is time to set routines, which are times during the day when you would be taking these medicines (ex: breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc.). Finally, in the schedules tab you would mark how often you would like these routines to repeat and the dosage that should be taken. The app will then do the rest of the work by reminding you every day with an alarm on your phone or vibration on your smartwatch. The watch can also interact with the app and you can mark when you have taken or delayed your medication, which can be very useful. Other features of the app include the ability to use your phone’s camera and flashlight to capture your heart rate and display it on a real time graph. The app also has the ability to contact your doctor or pharmacist directly to share data or talk to them. Regarding privacy and security, each user can create their own profile that is pin or fingerprint protected.

I made a submission video for the app that gives a visual demo of all the functions:

 

Overall, I managed to win the Honorable Mention prize (5 tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018) for the competition and I was very pleased with the outcome given how quickly I was able to put it together.

My Eagle Project: Repurposing Old Laptops into Chromebooks for Harbor House

In Boy Scouts, the highest rank is known as Eagle. To achieve this rank, a scout must lead his very own service project that is beneficial to an organization other than Boy Scouts. To fulfill this requirement, I decided to combine my passion for technology and volunteering to benefit an organization in Oakland that helps out in their local community.

From my previous experiences of playing around with technology, I stumbled upon Cloudready, which is a tool that can help repurpose old computers into Chromebooks, created by a company called Neverware. I contacted them regarding my project and they were very happy with the idea of using their software to help empower kids with reliable laptops. They sent over some USB flash drives with their software preloaded so I could use them in my project, which was a huge help. The CEO also wrote me a very nice letter, motivating me even further.

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I talked to my scoutmaster (Mike Dubrall) about the idea of going door to door and dropping off flyers in order to collect old laptops, but he wasn’t too convinced at first. I then explained the software that I was using and how I would refurbish them. Once he heard all the information and felt that it was a good idea, I created a more detailed plan that would soon become my Eagle Binder. This held all the dates and planning documents for each of my work days.

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Following the creation of the binders, I had an internal review with my scoutmaster and two other adults to help fix any mistakes before I went to the real thing. Their feedback regarding changes to make in my binders were very insightful and I am very thankful as it helped me catch a lot of errors that I would have overlooked. They also asked many questions that forced me to think deeply before answering as they would usually be crucial to the project’s success. Once they told me what to fix, I spent a couple hours to go through all the suggestions and create 3 identical binders. This was a challenge due to the numerous revisions and reprinting I had to do.

I then went to an Eagle Project Proposal in Danville to get my project approved by the district. At first, similar to my scoutmaster, they were a bit skeptical as most common projects usually involve building or something similar. I also convinced them that it was a good idea due to how unique it was and the lasting impact that it could leave on the community. They seemed very impressed by the idea as it helped keep old computers out of landfills while helping a greater cause.  This surprisingly went very smoothly and I was scheduled to start my project a week later.

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The first day of the project mainly consisted of the scouts going door to door and dropping off flyers. We went to houses that were surrounding two different parks and dropped off about 850 flyers. It was a group of 9 scouts so I made sure to split it up evenly so we could cover the area quickly. According to my previous calculations, it was supposed to take us a few hours after lunch to finish, but we managed to actually finish ahead of schedule, which was a pleasant surprise. One challenge we faced was a lack of communication between the groups at times, but it did not hinder us too much.

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The second day consisted of us mainly picking up the computers, cleaning them physically and digitally, and installing the new OS. We set up two tables with power strips and were working simultaneously on the various computers. I had about 8-10 scouts also helping this day. We managed to convert about 10-15 computers that day, which was pretty good considering the time we had. We had a bit of trouble with one of the large desktops as it was taking a long time to wipe and it had no touchscreen drivers for Chrome OS, so we reinstalled Windows and used a different disk utility software to clean up the old data. Some other issues were that the USB drives we used did not work due to 32 bit vs 64 bit incompatibilities, so we ended up having to download different versions online to use on some older computers.

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The third day was the most difficult as we had to convert 15 more computers that we picked up and also individually box them up. This created a problem because we had a shortage of outlets so all of them could not be converted at the same time. We also needed to update some of the other laptops which were stuck on an older version. To fix this we had to pull out another table and try to strategically use the power outlets. I had only 8 scouts this day, so it took a bit longer as well. In the end however, we managed to box up 30+ computers and one large all in one desktop.

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The last day, two of my scout friends (Aman and Anuj) joined me in delivering the laptops to the high schoolers at Harbor House. It felt very rewarding to see them using the computers and to see the impact that the project had on them. We taught them all how to set up the computers, do basic tasks and explain what my project’s goal was. Not all of the high school interns were present at the time, but those who were, got priority in choosing their laptops.

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Harbor House also wrote a very nice post regarding my project and its outcome, which I greatly appreciated. It is linked above if you would like to see it.

Also, I just wanted to mention some of the people I am thankful for:

  • My scoutmaster, Mr. Dubrall, for his mentorship throughout
  • The adult leaders who helped during my proposal and work days
  • Harbor House for being a great beneficiary
  • My community for their generosity and laptop donations
  • My parents who took pictures and brought food

Overall, I was very humbled by the opportunity to carry out this project for Harbor House and I am very pleased with the outcome. The next step on my path to achieving the rank of Eagle is to finish up the remaining requirements and filling out an Eagle Application (5 Letters of Recommendation and a personal reflection) which I am eagerly looking forward to finishing this summer.

Amazon Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids Finalists

Recently, my friend Raj and I participated in an online contest held by Amazon and Devpost. The challenge they provided to over 2600 people that registered was to “Build an Alexa skill that educates, entertains, and engages kids under 13”.

The project we made was called planet.AR.y and it tied Augmented Reality + Alexa together. The iOS/Android application was built in C# through the Unity and Vuforia plugin libraries that allowed for image tracking. We had various back-end servers that would interface information between the phone and Alexa through HTTP GET requests.

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Out of around 500 submissions, we were selected to be in the Top 20.

The Top 20 finalists win $5000 USD and get their skill promoted in the Alexa Skill Store.

The grand prize winner is selected from the 20 finalists and takes home $20,000 USD. Please download the app and skill, while also leaving positive feedback on the various pages.

Link to demo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTf6i7jGX70

Link to submission (more info): https://devpost.com/software/planet-ar-y

Link to Amazon Skill (& for feedback): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078S4J8PL/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_ttl_sol_0

Link to Play Store app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=io.paperplane.rajb.planetary