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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
At EPC Connection, Mashkoori stressed the environmental advantages of using an additive process, via printing transistors, as opposed to the etching process employed in conventional silicon production. This, according to Kovio, lowers material costs and also requires much less water and hazardous chemicals during production.

Kovio's chips, the company indicates, are printed onto a much larger die than those created with conventional silicon, making them easier and cheaper to bond to an antenna to form a complete inlay. While Kovio is presently converting the complete RFID inlay for the initial product (by attaching a printed chip to a printed antenna using a conductive epoxy), it expects, for large orders, that it will begin selling sheets of the printed chips to third parties that will then convert them into full inlays. Eventually, Kovio reports, it will be able to print full inlays—chip and antenna—in one process.

Vik Pavate
The RFID applications of an HF tag, based on the Kovio HF chip, will be limited due to the small number of transistors on the chip, compared with chips manufactured through conventional means, says Vik Pavate, Kovio's VP of business development. The chip's cost, however, will also be low relative to conventional silicon, due both to the relatively few transistors and to the agile manufacturing processes printing allows. The printing process makes feasible much smaller production runs than do conventional silicon fab methods, he explains, which reduces costs in terms of time to market. What's more, the applications Kovio is currently targeting do not require complex microprocessing capabilities on the chip.

The printed chip complies with the ISO 14443A air-interface standard, Pavate says. It can contain 128 bits of data, printed directly on the chip (rather than encoded later via RF), and can transmit that information at a rate of 106 kilobits per second.

Kovio is already working with Cubic, a San Diego-based company that designs and manufactures automatic fare-collection systems for public transit projects, to develop a fare card with an integrated Kovio inlay that commuters could utilize to access transit systems. According to Pavate, event ticketing is another likely use for the company's HF tag.

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