This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
Athletes at the Olympics in Rio this summer will be able to keep their debit cards in their wallets and pay with their fingers. Visa will allow them to make contactless payments via the NFC Ring, technology that was developed far from the heat of Brazil, in West Yorkshire.
Bradford-based John McLear was already a successful technology entrepreneur in the education sector when he invented the NFC Ring as a way to avoid having to carry keys and a wallet.
“John iterated through hundreds of prototypes (the early ones being 3D printed) and eventually ended up launching the first rings with a Kickstarter campaign back in 2013,” says NFC Ring’s Brand Director Chris Leach.
The initial ring raised £241,000 in crowdfunding and was recently followed by an updated 2016 model. In addition to opening doors, it can be used to unlock smartphones and transfer contact information – like a kind of ‘wearable business card.’ The Olympics will be one of the first times it has been used for payments.
While there are other NFC-enabled rings on the market, Leach doesn’t see them as real competition. “We invented this technology and application. Other ‘NFC enabled smart rings’ (we actually own the trademark for the term ‘NFC Ring’!) are simply copycats, and mostly only care about making a quick buck, that’s why you see so many cheap Chinese copies floating about the web with poor quality.
“You know you are on to a good thing when there are cheap copies available all over the internet before you’ve even fully released your first version!”
From Bradford to the world
The Visa deal is just one of a number of partnerships in the works, according to McClear, who says that he plans to move to Los Angeles to take advantage of commercial opportunities there. NFC Ring is a proudly Yorkshire-based company though, and supports the broader local economy by using manufacturing partners in the area.
McLear says that the survivors of Bradford’s once world-class wool processing industry have now retooled to work with materials such as carbon fibre and kevlar – ideal for companies wanting to innovate in the hardware space.
“We firmly believe in ‘shopping local’ wherever possible,” says Leach, who adds that the company worked with material science students from Bradford University while developing the ring.
With Leeds having positioned itself as West Yorkshire’s ‘tech city’ (don’t miss the feature-length documentary on that topic), what’s it like to be a technology firm in nearby Bradford?
“It’s interesting,” says Leach. “Bradford is such a culturally diverse and fascinating place to be in. There is no shortage of talented and hard working people in Bradford who are building empires in all industry verticals.
“It’s great to be able to say that we are amongst those budding entrepreneurs that are proud of their home city and are constantly striving to help put the city back on the map. We’re quite fortunate that there is such wide-ranging business in the city – as it means we have been able to seek out some local expertise with some areas of our production, such as packaging design and production, and help to give back to the local community in whatever way we can.”
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