An inexpensive handheld electronic reader can access the information by touching the experimental chips, which might be placed on a painting, a photo, a bracelet or virtually anything else. The stored information might include video, sound and text.
Company officials were cautious about potential commercial applications, but said the technology might be used to store audio that could be read back from photographs, for example. Or, it could be used to read and modify electronic medical information in a medical patient’s ID bracelet.
The first generation of chips stores up to 512,000 bytes of information, roughly the amount of text in a slim novel. The technology was developed by a Hewlett-Packard Labs group based in Bristol, England, during the past four years
Hewlett-Packard executives said that the technology was intended to serve a different purpose from RFID, or radio frequency identification, tags, which are often used as tracking devices on commercial products.
“What we’re talking about is distributing digital information in the physical world,” said Howard Taub, associate director of H.P. Labs.
In contrast to RFID tags, which store only a few hundred or few thousand bits of information, and which are readable from distances of tens of feet, the H.P. Memory Spots can be read only from extremely close range and store up to hundreds of thousands of bytes of information.
Like RFID tags, Memory Spots are powered from radio fields emitted by reading devices, but the H.P. researchers said they would have new applications beyond the typical supply chain and identification functions of RFID chips. Ultimately, executives said, the reading and writing technology could be added to smart phones or other inexpensive handheld devices.
The Memory Spot chips could be priced as low as 10 cents each if they were manufactured in volume, Mr. Taub said.
An independent RFID expert said that the idea was intriguing, but that commercial success was by no means guaranteed.
“The paradigm by which we deal with data-enabled objects and where we store the data and what the privacy constraints are will all play into whether this technology will be successful,” said Chris Diorio, chairman and co-founder of Impinj, a Seattle-based maker of advanced RFID chips.
One of the advantages of the Memory Spot is that the 1.4-millimeter-square chips contain a small processor and as a result have the ability to offer data protection features.