RFID-enhanced CES badge helps you get to the show – EDN.com


March 5, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Uncategorized


The Las Vegas Monorail is a great way to get around the city during the Consumer Electronics Show, assuming your current location and destination are both in reasonable proximity to its stations (i.e. those wanting to visit the exhibitors at the Venetian or Sands Convention Center are still in for a “bit” of a stroll). And the service’s multi-day passes are a great deal, assuming you’ll be riding the Monorail a lot while you’re there; considering that we’re talking about CES, that’s a reasonable assumption.

A single-ride ticket costs $5, while a four-day unlimited-ride pass, for example, is $28. Better yet, the “days” clock doesn’t start ticking until you take your first ride, regardless of when you initially purchase the pass. And at the end of last year, as I was preparing for my yearly CES sojourn, I was email-presented with an even better deal; specially priced multi-day Monorail passes that were directly encoded on my conference badge. The three-day pass I purchased through this promotion, for example, was only $24, a $4 discount from the normal price.

This special service, as it turns out, was offered by NXP (specifically its MIFARE contactless IC brand) in partnership with Monorail, the Consumer Electronics Association, and event provider ITN International. Here’s a promo video from NXP that discusses the CES 2017 program in greater detail:

Here’s another overview video from NXP, focusing in particular on the associated AppXplorer smartcard management app (which I didn’t try):

And here’s yet another, this one from ITN International:

Enough of the overview; let’s take a look at my badge. Here’s a big-picture shot, also including its Sony-branded strap and the plastic placard behind it.

The placard itself is fairly unremarkable (although Best Buy might beg to differ):

Here’s a closeup of the front of the badge (taken post-teardown, therefore explaining the crease in the paper):

Yes, it’s true, I’ve been to nearly 20 years’ worth of CES events. Note, too, the monorail logo in the lower left corner, which indicates that a Monorail multi-day pass is encoded within (the number originally below it, which I’ve copy-and-paste obscured for privacy, was my original purchase transaction ID).

Flip the badge over and we begin to get to the RFID goodies (yes, I wrote the linked article more than a decade ago!):

As you probably already guessed, the DESFire EV2 chip is underneath the disc-shaped plastic sticker:

Separating it from the paper badge was a bit of a chore, but I finally managed:

And indeed, embedded in the sticker underside are the NFC IC and associated antenna:

Here’s a closeup:

So how’d it all work? Pretty well, actually, albeit not perfect. The Monorail pass was pre-activated when I picked up my badge. In order for it to be recognized, you needed to place it directly on the transparent glass “window” on the top of a turnstile, as well as rotated in a particular orientation; ironically, in the above ITN International video, you can see a woman struggling with hers at ~0:45, as well as a Monorail employee emerging to assist her. The first couple of days of the show, in fact, I noticed a Monorail staffer at each turnstile cluster I encountered, whose primary purpose seemed to be as a badge assistant.

My other problem occurred the last morning I attended the show. I made it from my hotel (Harrah’s) to my meeting location (the Westgate Hotel, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) just fine. But upon my return, none of the Monorail station turnstiles at the Westgate would correctly read my badge. The Westgate station was unstaffed at the time, so I was forced to separately purchase a $5 one-way ticket.

When I got back to Harrah’s, I confirmed that my badge-resident Monorail pass was still valid. And, because none of the Westgate turnstiles could correctly read it that morning (whereas they’d worked fine in prior days), I suspect I was dealing with a temporary server-connectivity issue at that particular station. I promptly reported my issue to Monorail customer service, and received a $5 refund in short order.

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