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HP Spots New Opportunities for Passive RFID

HP Labs has developed a prototypical passive tag that's long on memory, short on range and suitable for both business and consumer apps.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Whether the Memory Spot will be used more broadly for consumer or business applications—and if it will ever become a product at all—has yet to be determined. "Right now, this is a research effort," explains Taub. "[HP Labs] develops enabling technology and attempts to encourage our businesses to pick it up and run with it." Those businesses are HP's three main business arms: the imaging and printing group, which sells printers and cameras; the technical services group, which provides enterprise technology and integration; and the personal systems group, which sells personal computers, including laptops and PDAs.

Taub says HP businesses have expressed interest in seeing how Memory Spot tags might be received by its customers and which of the proposed applications are the most marketable. This is one reason HP is announcing the Memory Spot prototype. Before HP businesses can bring the Memory Spot to market, the company will first need to seek out a chipmaker and other partners, and enter into licensing agreements with them based on the IP used in the Memory Spot, which includes 50 patents filed by HP Labs. "To get this to really work, we need a ecosystem to form," says Taub.

The first building block of that ecosystem would be a device end users could use to encode data to and read data from the Memory Spot tags. Taub says these interrogators could be built into mobile devices such as handheld computers, digital cameras or cellular phones, depending on the application.

Cell phones are currently being tested and used as RFID interrogators for near-field communication (NFC) tags operating at 13.56 MHz and based on ISO standards. Nokia is a founding member of the Near Field Communication Forum, which is working to commercialize NFC technology; Motorola and Samsung are also part of the group. According to the NFC Forum site, Hewlett Packard recently became a member, as well.

Memory Spot tags not only operate at a different frequency than NFC tags, they also do not comply with the air-interface protocols used for NFC. Taub says HP is in talks with NFC members about the Memory Spot tags, but he would not go into any further details. Still, he did say that along with the need for an ecosystem of reading and encoding devices, Memory Spot technology would also need to be adopted as a global standard before it could become widely usable. "We will join standardizing groups," he says. "We'll look at licensing and partners to bring the Memory Spot to market."

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