Dipo plans an unforgettable gadget

If you're the slightly dippy type that often forgets your keys, passport, phone or laptop computer, then a French company that exhibited on the fringes of Comdex will soon have just the thing for you: the Individual Detector of Object Loss.

It's not magic, of course: the Dipo (from the acronym of its name in French) consists of two elements, a detector and a tiny battery-powered radio-signal-emitting tag. The detector emits an alarm signal when one of the tags strays out of range -- 3 meters in the current prototype, although this will be refined to 1.5 meters in the next generation, the company said.

Strap on or pocket a detector at the start of the day, tell it to take an inventory of uniquely-numbered tagged items you are carrying, and after that, you will be warned if you stroll out of a meeting -- or a bar -- without any of the protected objects.

Production versions of the detector will fit in watches, belt buckles or key fobs, according to Bruno Enea, who came up with the idea for the Dipo. The prototype hasn't quite reached this state of miniaturization yet, but "it's very small: we soldered it with eyebrow tweezers," he said.

The tags will become small enough to fit into a standard Multimedia Memory Card, where they can draw on the power supply of their host device, said Enea's colleague, Philippe Ros. The chip -- around 10 millimeters square and 1 millimeter thick -- also can be combined with a battery in a self-adhesive unit measuring 20 millimeters square and 4 millimeters thick to create an autonomous version capable of protecting passports, wallets and other small objects. If Dipo's inventors can persuade cell phone manufacturers of the Dipo's usefulness, it's possible that embedded versions of the tag could even lock up stolen phones.

Much of the scope for miniaturization depends on battery technology. A CR2016 lithium battery, commonly used in watches and other miniature electronic devices, contains enough energy within its 20 millimeter-diameter, 1.6 millimeter-thick shell to run a Dipo tag eight hours a day for a year. With battery manufacturers already demonstrating lithium cells thin enough to be inserted in a standard credit card, the possibility of protecting individual credit cards with Dipo tags becomes realistic -- although it's likely the battery would expire before the credit card, Ros said.

Apart from keeping the forgetful out of trouble, the pair see other applications for the Dipo, including the aviation industry, where maintenance engineers must make a careful inventory of tools after repairing a jet engine, to avoid leaving anything inside. Tracking down missing tagged tools would take just seconds, they said.

The Dipo is being prepared for manufacturing, and should be on the market by June, with tags costing around US$7 each, Enea said. He didn't have a price for the detector.

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