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Kovio Unveils Printed-Silicon HF RFID, Chip Tag

The low-cost chip complies with the ISO 14443A standard and can contain 128 bits of factory-encoded data; commercial products should be available in 2009.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 16, 2008Kovio, a Silicon Valley startup that announced its intention late last year to shake up the conventional silicon industry by creating a printed silicon chip for RFID tags, today unveiled its first product: a passive RFID inlay containing a printed, silicon-based high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz integrated circuit. A number of Kovio beta customers, including printable-electronics firm Toppan Forms (also a Kovio investor), are currently testing the inlay and integrating it into their prototype products. The tag is expected to be commercially available next year.

At this week's EPC Connection 2008 conference, the company's CEO, Amir Mashkoori, announced the chip and inlay. Mashkoori provided an overview of Kovio's product platform, showing conference attendees a sample of the chip—which is printed on steel foil—as well as a demonstration of a possible use case, whereby a consumer could hold a Kovio-tagged can of Coca-Cola up to an interrogator within a store to access a Web site containing product and promotional information.

Amir Mashkoori
Late last year, Kovio indicated it had succeeded in printing a thin-film transistor—the building block for a complete integrated circuit. Although it was not the first firm to do so using printable silicon, Kovio's offering possessed a higher charge mobility than others (see Tech Startup Unveils Printed-Silicon Transistor). The higher a chip's charge mobility, the better its ability to support RF transmissions.

Because its printed silicon had such a high charge mobility, Kovio had claimed it could be used to create an RFID tag. A number of companies are also attempting to manufacture printed RFID chips with non-silicon, organic materials (see Printed-Electronics RFID Tags: From Promise to Reality).

Mashkoori differentiated Kovio's printed-chip process from conventional silicon fabrication, explaining that printing offers a greater degree of design flexibility and a faster time to market. Kovio's cycle time for printing a new chip, he noted, is a matter of days, compared with the months required for conventional fabrication methods, which involve the etching of silicon wafers.

Kovio is currently targeting the item-level tagging market, and eventually hopes to displace the estimated 10 trillion bar codes printed onto product packaging each year. Initially, however, the company's sights are focused on the transit fare card and event-ticketing markets, for which magnetic stripe is a dominant technology. At volume, Kovio claims, tags made with its chips will be priced from 2 to 5 cents apiece. The cost barrier the firm hopes to improve going forward is print speed. Increasing the speed at which it is able to deposit silicon ink to form the chips will help it scale up production and lower cost.

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