What started BusinessSync? The team was inspired by their own personal experience at career fairs and recruiting events. Normally, at career fairs, one can receive dozens of business cards before the event is even over. When students look back at the stack they collected, they usually realize they had forgotten what face matched to what name, and sometimes even what company! There had to be a better solution through technology to connect on a personal level with companies.
What it does
BusinessSync was created to solve this problem and more. Gone are the days of using the traditional print business card, instead replaced by a simple NFC solution. Employees no longer need to print hundreds of business cards for hiring events and do not need to reprint their cards if they change positions or company. The solution also allows for their contact data to update in real time if it changes, making outdated business cards an inconvenience of the past.
By using NFC tags or an NFC business card, which is registered to a user through the Android app or by using a hardware module designed for iOS, students and even other businessmen, can simply tap to add that person's business card to their BusinessSync's contact list. This contact list contains a profile image of the user who is giving their virtual business card to the receiver. In addition to a profile image, also included is the sender's contact information, company name, and other contact information. This combination of business card style contact information and profile picture allows for the receiver of the virtual card to never forget who they were talking to.
In addition to supporting NFC, the system also supports methods for iPhones to easily receive virtual business cards at career events. By using a Bluetooth system protocol by Apple, named iBeacon, a sender of a virtual business card can set up a small device around their booth at a career fair. When a potential receiver comes within close proximity of the beacon, and the sender allows for the beacon to send, the receiver will automatically receive the virtual business card of the sender, without even touching their iPhone.
The solution allows for a revolution in the business card. Not only will the convenience of giving and receiving a "business card" improve, but the environmental impact will be substantial, as business cards will no longer need to be printed or reprinted if they change.
How we built it
The project was built around Firebase for the database, storage, and user authentication system. The Android app communicates with Firebase and has a Material Design interface for a smooth, clean interface. In addition, the app allows for registering NFC business cards, or even tags. To receive contact information, the app allows for a simple tap on a registered NFC device.
For non-Android devices, a hardware solution was needed. Using an Arduino with a Bluetooth Low Energy and NFC module, iOS devices can have similar functionality to the Android app. In order to register cards to a user's account, the user pairs the Arduino with their iOS device and uses a potential iOS app to read NFC taps on that device.
There are situations where having an extra device to tap instead of just one's phone (like for Android) is cumbersome. To solve this (for example, at career fairs), the Arduino device can be set up in beacon mode, broadcasting a Bluetooth iBeacon for both Android and iOS devices. Devices with the app can potentially pick up on this signal, and automatically add business cards to their app.
Challenges we ran into
Integrating all of the system components was extremely difficult. Getting user authentication, real-time database support, file storage syncing for profile images, and NFC support working together seemed like a disaster at first. Eventually, we solved this problem by modularizing the system and making a simple architecture.
Supporting iOS was a large challenge at first, considering iPhones have NFC support but not for use by developers. The solution we created (in theory, as none of us have developing power for iOS), allows for a hardware add-on for iOS devices to support NFC registrations. The hardware add-on also uses Bluetooth to broadcast the data to iPhones and Android users alike.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The design and fluidity of the app is one of the best parts of the project. The ease of use of registering or removing your business card to your account, and then giving to another user is simple and fast. Adding contacts is a simple NFC tap, and changing your business card information in the future is one text edit field away.
The scalability provided by Firebase allows our app to scale in the future, especially for a large amount of users. Contact fields can easily be added to the app and database. In addition, the system supports registering multiple NFC cards to a user, allowing for a user to have an NFC tag in their car and their wallet if they wanted to.
What we learned
Developing the Android app taught us a lot about Android design. The app uses a multitude of Material Design components that we have not used before, as well as NFC which none of us have programmed for. The Firebase integration was deeper than any of us have ever used it for (all of us had just used the Realtime Database service).
On the hardware side, we learned more about Arduinos, the Bluetooth protocol, and Apple's iBeacon protocol for sending data to multiple Bluetooth devices.
What's next for BusinessSync
BusinessSync is at the stage of feature additions. What's next is adding more features to making sharing virtual business cards even easier than before. More contact field, custom contact fields, and more robustness in the app are for sure next steps.
Better intergration with iOS using the hardware model is a for sure next step to capture that market, as well as development on a iOS app.
The Android App needs extensive user testing, for not only bugs, but user experience feedback.
We started a web interface late in the game, and this needs further development to support all features.