'RFID on steroids' could add wireless to everyday objects

July 17, 2006

2 Min Read
Microdot, Meet Memory Spot

Promising to "bridge the physical and digital world," HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) said today it has developed a miniature wireless data chip that can store up to 4 megabits of data and transmit information at speeds of up to 10 Mbit/s.

Resembling an RFID chip on steroids, the new experimental chips have a built-in antenna and can be powered from an external read/write device in a mobile phone or other device. They are 2mm wide by 4mm long, or about the size of a grain of rice. (See RFID Digs In.)

Because of their small size, and their capacity for being embedded in anything from a sheet of paper to a photograph to a wristband, the new chips -- dubbed the "Memory Spot" by HP -- have the potential for use in an array of futuristic applications, many of them connected to HP's copying and imaging businesses. They include adding music or commentary to photographs; embedding medical records in hospital patients' wristbands [ed. note: or wrists?]; document-revision histories attached to printouts; security enhancements for passports and other identification documents; added security and dosage information for pharmaceutical containers; and a host of others.

"We have built a device that allows us to bridge the physical and digital world," says HP vice president Howard Taub, the associate director of HP Labs. "We have made hundreds of these chips. The question now is the business question: 'How much will they cost? Where will they be used?' "

So bleeding-edge are the Memory Spot chips that the business questions will likely not be answered for years. Equally interesting, though, is the technology involved, including the power to transmit at broadband speeds using a miniaturized antenna, and the capacity to power the chips using inductive coupling. Inductive coupling uses a shared electromagnetic field to transfer energy from one circuit component to another.

The 10-Mbit/s transfer rate makes the Memory Spot 10 times faster than Bluetooth. With up to 4 megabits of memory, the chips could hold a brief video clip, several images, or less than 100 pages of text.

“The Memory Spot chip frees digital content from the electronic world of the PC and the Internet," said Ed McDonnell, the Memory Spot project manager at HP Labs, in a statement, "and arranges it all around us in our physical world.”

Since you must use a read/write device incorporated in a mobile phone, camera, printer, or other device to access the content stored on the Memory Spot, that's a bit of an overstatement. Held close to the chip, the read/write device uses inductive coupling to power up the Memory Spot, which then transfers the information automatically to the display of the device.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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