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November 25, 2007

Printing electronics with inkjets

MIt Technology Review provides more information on the work of Kovio of Sunnyvale.

Current contactless smart cards of the type used by frequent travelers on major transit systems can cost as much as $5 a piece to produce. But Kovio's technology could soon lead to nonmagnetic smart cards that cost a nickel.

Eventually, the technology could help enable a range of applications, including wall-sized displays.

Amir Mashkoori, Kovio's CEO, says the company can print memory and energy-efficient CMOS logic devices, as well as analog circuitry for radios, to make RFID tags that cost less than a nickel. To do this, they've developed a variety of inks, including nanocrystalline metals for electrodes and connections between devices, doped silicon semiconductors, and insulating materials. Kovio's process makes use of several types of commercial printers, including inkjet models. The printing is followed by a curing process. Kovio estimates that its system requires just 5 percent of the materials and a quarter of the electrical power used in conventional chip-making processes, with equipment that costs a third as much.

Within five years, the cost for some applications could fall to just a penny a piece, Mashkoori says--cheap enough for stores to replace barcodes with RFID tags. Such tags could make tracking inventory much easier. Eventually, consumers may be able to read the tags with their cell phones to confirm that a product complies with their dietary restrictions or to keep a tally of the cost of items in their basket. Items could be paid for by walking past a reader and accepting the charges.

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