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HP's Tiny Chip Could Have Huge Impact

UPDATED: PALO ALTO, CALIF. -- HP's Labs unveiled a tiny, wireless chip today that could make audio and visual information as well as basic text information far more broadly accessible.

HP's "Memory Spot" research team has developed a memory device, based on CMOS   integrated circuit design, that includes a built-in antenna and 10 megabits-per-second data transfer rate, comparable to Wi-Fi  speeds.

Low Power? How about none? The Memory Spot chip is completely self-contained, with no need for a battery or external electronics. HP said 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 said the chip is about half the size of a grain of rice (2 mm by 4 mm square). Working prototypes have storage capacities ranging from 256K to 4 megabytes, or enough to store a short video clip, several images or dozens of pages of text. HP said larger capacities are also possible for future versions.

Analyst Tim Bajarin has seen the prototypes and is very excited about its potential a few years down the road.

"It's a fascinating technology, but remember this is only a technology announcement coming out of HP Labs," Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told internetnews.com.

"For it to become a commercial product, HP's got to line up all kinds of partners to make the chips, make the readers, and set up any licensing. It's going to be a two to five year process for this to become ubiquitous."

HP confirmed it's basically going public now to let other companies, potential partners, know about its existing so it can get an ecosystem and licensing started. The computer giant has filed more than 50 patents related to Memory Spots and a few have already issued. NEW:

"Some of the patents are speculative," said Howard Taub, vice president and associate director of HP Labs. "We were able to do a lot of patents because this projects started from a different direction than RFID, . Taub also said HP had applied to a "major standards" body to help better establish Memory Spot technology.

HP  said the reader, a read-write device, could be incorporated into a range of digital devices such as cell phones, PDAs, cameras, and printers. "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.

This is also one tough chip. HP said Memory Spots can be embedded on paper or plastic, and it's been run through a hot laminator and a laser printer without damage.

Potential applications run the gamut. The tiny dot-sized chip attached to a bracelet could store a patient's entire medical history. It could likewise be used for identity cards and passports. A memory spot chip could be attached to a photo or other document to add audio or video – think multimedia postcard. Another security application could involve items like pharmaceuticals where the attached memory spot would verify the authenticity of the jar's contents.

In the latter case and other areas, there is potential overlap with RFID  chips. Bajarin thinks Memory Spots could be better than RFID in some areas. For example, HP's technology is wireless but it requires the reader to be almost touching the memory spot. In the passport example, you'd have to basically touch the chip with the reader to get that information. But with RFID's greater broadcast range, it's possible to use a reader clandestinely to grab information thought to be secure.

Taub said HP is actively exploring a range of new applications for Memory Spot chips. He added in a statement that HP believes "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."



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