New HP Wireless Chip Connects The Digital And Real Worlds - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Hardware & Infrastructure
07:24 PM
Connect Directly

New HP Wireless Chip Connects The Digital And Real Worlds

The tiny chips can be attached to objects from photos to prescription bottles.

In an effort to strengthen the connection between the digital and physical worlds, HP today said that its researchers have created a tiny wireless microchip called the Memory Spot that can be used to affix digital content to tangible objects.

The chip—about the size of half a grain of rice—might be attached to a photo print, where it could provide access to the original digital photo file to anyone who wanted to make a copy. Howard Taub, VP and Associate Director of Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, said he hopes to see chip reading electronics, costing perhaps a few dollars, built into cell phones, PDAs, Flash drives, and other devices, including printers.

Taub said HP's aim was to make potential partners aware of the technology so they can begin discussing how it might be developed and deployed. He estimated it could take several years before it's commercially useful, with an eco-system of readers and product uses that make the chips practical.

Taub also showed how the chip might be used to attach an audio file of a physician reading a prescription to a pill bottle. Another demonstration included a postcard that contained a version of the classic arcade game PacMan that Taub scanned with a reader device into a PC and played. While such digital files can easily be stored and made accessible online, the Memory Spot allows computer files to be associated with actual objects, where they remain accessible whether or not there's Internet connectivity.

Current versions of the Memory Spot can hold from 256 kilobits to 4 megabits, enough for dozens of pages of text, a few photos, several minutes of audio, or a very short video clip, depending on the quality of the video encoding.

The HP Memory Spot is similar to a radio-frequency identification chip in many respects. The primary difference is that RFID chips store a pointer or reference to a database entry. The HP Memory Spot stores the data itself.

"It's order of magnitude different in [storage] capacity and bandwidth," Taub said. "But the truth is it's like comparing a monkey and a human: There are some similarities between them." Taub said he believed the two technologies were complementary. (He leaves it to you which technology represents the monkey in his analogy.)

The Memory Spot has a data-transfer rate of 10 Mbps, which is about 10 times faster than the Bluetooth wireless protocol and comparable to an 802.11b WiFi connection. It operates at a frequency of 2.45 GHz. RFID chips, which operate at 13.56 MHz, typically transfer data at a rate of 10 to 100 Kbps.

Taub expects Memory Spot chips will be more expensive than RFID chips. He said HP's researchers were assuming a cost of $1 a chip for the purpose of considering potential uses and markets that could sustain that cost. The actual cost of the chips will depend on the volume at which they are eventually produced. At this point, the HP Memory Spot seems likely to cost five to 10 times more than a passive RFID chip.

The Memory Spot has another advantage over RFID chips: It can't be read from far away, thus obviating the privacy fears that have dogged RFID. "If you had one on you, on an object, and the object was in your pocket, no one can get at it," Taub explained. "You have to literally touch it [with a reader] or almost touch it. So privacy issues sort of go away."

That also makes it —along with the cost—a much less practical tool for supply-chain monitoring. One advantage of RFID over, say, bar codes, is that they can be read at some distance without having to touch the product, or the pallet it's on.

That's not to say, however, it would be impossible to read a Memory Spot chip from a distance. "It would be hard," Taub said. "I'm sure the military might be able to figure out a way to do it, but I think it would require extraordinary technology to read something whose fields were very local."

Memory is also a big difference. While the Memory Spot can hold up to 4 megabits, RFID chips hold only a few kilobits generally.

The memory spot also supports SHA-1 authentication, so access can be restricted. It also allows on-chip encryption using the on-board processor.

The Memory Spot measures about 2 mm square with an integrated antenna. RFID chips tend to be larger, around 5 to 8 cm including an external antenna.

Because of its size and durability, the HP chip can be easily embedded in a piece of paper, plastic, or other material, inorganic or otherwise.

Taub said that software development kits (SDKs) for developing Memory Spot-related applications will be made available to partners.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
2021 State of ITOps and SecOps Report
This new report from InformationWeek explores what we've learned over the past year, critical trends around ITOps and SecOps, and where leaders are focusing their time and efforts to support a growing digital economy. Download it today!
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

Becoming a Self-Taught Cybersecurity Pro
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  6/9/2021
Ancestry's DevOps Strategy to Control Its CI/CD Pipeline
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  6/4/2021
IT Leadership: 10 Ways to Unleash Enterprise Innovation
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  6/8/2021
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
White Papers
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Sponsored Video
Flash Poll