We got two interesting stories in on advancements in mobile technologies today. The first is from German company PANMOBIL, which has created a scanner to take advantage of truly tiny 2d barcodes. The second story could be a game changer. Kovio is a spin-off company from MIT, and has raised $20 million in a fifth round of funding for it’s tech proposition – printable RFID tags. They cost six times less to produce than current tags.
Kovio has been steadily marching towards the lime-light for a few years now. It came to our attention as it just announced a $20 million round of funding. Basically, Kovio uses silicon-based inks to print chips, circuits, sensors and displays. It uses “thin film” technology to print on. The end result is low-end chips that are printed like an inkjet prints on paper.
The most immediately profitable idea from this is in RFID tags. Currently RFID tags take about 12 weeks to create, and cost about 20 cents each. The Kovio method could see that reduced to a creation time of less than a week, at a cost of 3 cents per tag.
Very briefly, it’s an extremely short-range (10 cm or so) wireless technology. Mobile devices can read information from RFID tags, or use them to communicate with other devices. Amongst others, both Dairy Queen and Air France have had successful implementations of RFID.
What we think?
Holy cow. If RFID tags can be produced that cheaply and that quickly, then they’ve very suddenly become a much more serious threat to mobile barcodes. A huge advantage to barcodes was that all a manufacturer needed to produce them was ink. If Kovio can make it so that the same is true of RFID, then tags could easily be placed on every product in existence.
Really, really small 2d barcodes have been around for a while now. There have been companies operating in the area since at least last year. The codes haven’t seen much commercial use because, frankly, they’re too small for consumers to effectively use. There’s no point having a 2d barcode on something if it’s too small to find, and too difficult to scan.
PANMOBIL has created a solution for that, in a limited way. Its product is called a Small Code Pointer, or smartSCANNDY:
This hand-held scanner is aimed at companies with large catalogues. According the PANMOBIL, the size of modern 2d codes causes “heavy” catalogues to be larger than they need. Using smartSCANNDY, the code is pretty easy to scan. The device has a USB cable at the back – when plugged into a web-connected PC, the device can automatically upload all of the catalogue items scanned onto it and complete the purchase.
What we think?
I feel like PANMOBIL has solved a problem that there was no point in solving. Maybe having too many 2d barcodes in your catalogue is a big problem in Germany, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else. The smartSCANNDY is definitely a consumers device, but how many people do you know who order enough goods from catalogues with tiny 2D barcodes to need their own Small Code Pointer? I could see this technology being implemented at somewhere like Argos, but a consumer product just seems like a waste of time and money.