HP hits the memory spot

17 Jul 2006

Researchers at technology giant HP have developed a tiny wireless data chip that could provide broad access to digital content in the physical world. HP claims that the chip, which can transfer data wirelessly at 10Mbps, is faster than Bluetooth.

The experimental chip, developed by a research team at HP Labs, is a memory device based on CMOS (a widely used, low-power integrated circuit design) and about the size of a grain of rice or smaller (2mm to 4mm square) with a built-in antenna. The chips could be embedded in a sheet of paper or stuck to any surface and could eventually be available in a booklet as self-adhesive dots.

The tiny chip could make available information and content now found mostly on electronic devices or the internet.

Some of the potential applications include storing medical records on a hospital patient’s wristband; providing audio-visual supplements to postcards and photos; helping fight 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,” said Ed McDonnell, Memory Spot project manager, HP Labs.

The chip has a 10Mbps data transfer rate — 10 times faster than Bluetooth wireless technology and comparable to Wi-Fi speeds — effectively giving users instant retrieval of information in audio, video, photo or document form.

With a storage capacity ranging from 256KB to 4MB 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.

Information can be accessed by a read-write device that could be 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. Users could also add information to the chip using the various devices.

The chip incorporates a built-in antenna and is completely 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.

“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,” said Howard Taub, HP vice-president and associate director, HP Labs.

By John Kennedy