HP hails Memory Spot chips to extend content access

Bridging physical and digital worlds, Hewlett-Packard on Monday unveiled a miniature wireless data chip called "Memory Spot," which could be attached to almost any object and provide broad access to digital content.

In development at HP Labs for about four years, Memory Spot is a memory device based on CMOS and is about the size of a grain of rice or smaller, at 2 mm to 4 mm square. Chips could be embedded or stuck on objects and make available content that is now found mostly on electronic devices or the Internet, HP said. Digital content is effectively freed from the PC and the Internet and offered on devices ranging from photos to pharmaceuticals.

HP demonstrated the technology during a presentation at HP Labs on Monday morning. The 10Mbps data transfer rate of the chip makes it 10 times faster than Bluetooth wireless technology and comparable to Wi-Fi speeds, HP said. Storage capacity ranges from 256Kb to 4Mb in prototypes.

In early versions of Memory Spot chips, short video clips could be stored as could several images or dozens of pages of texts, HP said. Power is received through inductive coupling, which is the transfer of energy from one circuit component to another through a shared electromagnetic field, HP said.

Memory Spot has various consumer and business applications, HP said. These could include:

-- Storing medical records on a hospital patient's wristband.

-- Providing audio-visual supplements to postcards and photos.

-- Fighting counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical industry.

-- Adding security to identity cards and passports.

-- Supplying additional information for printed documents.

Additionally, it could be used for scanning of documents into printers, which are a major part of HP's business. Or, it could be used for games.

Memory Spot is supplemented with a small reader/writer device that currently is in a prototype phase. The reader/writer technology could be implemented in devices such as a printer, cell phone, or camera.

Security is provided in Memory Spot through technologies such as cryptographic algorithm.

Consumers and businesses will have to wait for Memory Spot technology. It is not expected to be available on the market for two to five years, said Howard Taub, vice president and associate director of HP Labs. An ecosystem of business partners will be needed to provide the technology, he said.

Memory Spot is expected to be available for licensing to other vendors, even to competitors, which would generate royalties for HP, Taub said.

"I would hope that this is not just a licensing play but that we actually use it ourselves because it's important to our businesses," Taub said.Â

Memory Spot will be submitted to an industry standards body for its consideration. Taub would not identify the name of the organization but said an announcement would be made shortly.

Although it is too early to determine precise pricing, HP hopes that Memory Spot chips will be sold for about ten cents each or for tens of cents. Or, a strip of 20 chips may theoretically be priced at US$20.

Memory Spot is similar to RFID but is different, also. While both involve embedding of small chips on various objects and require readers, Memory Spot is not geared toward inventory applications like RFID and it has an integrated antenna. Memory Spot also does not require a separate database to find information. "It's all stored on the Memory Spot," Taub said.

"With RFID, you get a small number of bits and generally, you have to go somewhere else to look up the information," Taub said.

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