Monday, July 17, 2006

HP develops grain-size wireless chip

EE Times reporter Spencer Chin on the latest technology breakthrough from researchers at Hewlett-Packard Co - a wireless data chip with a built in antenna the size of a grain of rice.

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MANHASSET, N.Y. — Hewlett-Packard Co. has developed a miniature wireless data chip the company said could broaden access to digital content in the physical world.

Measuring 2 to 4 millimeters—the size of a grain of rice—and could be attached or embedded in almost any object to make available information and content now found mostly on Web devices.

The chip, developed by the Memory Spot research team at HP Labs, is a CMOS memory device with a built-in antenna. According to the company, the chip could be embedded in a sheet of paper or attached to surfaces. It could eventually be available in a booklet as self-adhesive dots.

Potential applications include storing medical records on a hospital patient's wristband, providing audio-visual supplements to postcards and photos, preventing counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical industry, adding security to identity cards and passports and supplying additional information for printed documents.

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

The chip has a 10 megabits-per-second data transfer rate—10 times faster than Bluetooth wireless technology and comparable to Wi-Fi speeds— with a storage capacity ranging from 256 kilobits to 4 megabits in working prototypes. It could store a very short video clip, several images or dozens of pages of text. Future versions could have larger capacities.

The chip incorporates a built-in antenna and is self-contained, with no need for a battery or external electronics. It receives power through inductive coupling from a special read-write device, which can then extract content from the memory on the chip. Inductive coupling is the transfer of energy from one circuit component to another through a shared electromagnetic field. A change in current flow through one device induces current flow in the other device.

HP researchers envision the read-write device being incorporated into a cell phone, PDA, camera, printer or other implement. To access information, the read-write device is positioned closely over the chip, which is then powered so that the stored data is transferred instantly to the display of the phone, camera or PDA or printed out by the printer.

"We are actively exploring a range of exciting new applications for Memory Spot chips and believe the technology could have a significant impact on our consumer businesses, from printing to imaging, as well as providing solutions in a number of vertical markets," Howard Taub, HP vice president and associate director, HP Labs, said in a statement.

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