What if your clothes could charge your cell phone? Imagine wearing fabric made from photovoltaic textiles acting as solar panels that could charge a mobile phone. Researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK have developed a new photoelectric device that is both flexible and transparent. At...
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Here’s how it works, as described by Popular Science: NFC is a short-range, low-power communications protocol between two devices. One device, the initiator, uses magnetic induction to create a radio-wave field that the target can detect and access, allowing small amounts of data to be transferred wirelessly over a relatively short distance. (In NFC’s case, the distance must be less than four inches.) The difference between NFC and RFID is that the latter is a one-way street: The EZ-Pass transmitter beams the $4.25 toll to the tollbooth’s receiver, for instance, and that’s the extent of the transaction. But NFC is two-way, allowing NFC-enabled gadgets to send and receive information.
Compared to other wireless protocols like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, NFC is exceedingly slow, with a maximum data transfer speed of 0.424 Mbps (or less than a quarter that of Bluetooth). But NFC has several key advantages: It consumes a mere 15 mA of power, which is practically nothing for today’s jumbo smartphone batteries; it has the possibility for greater security; and it forgoes the involved “pairing” process of Bluetooth entirely. Bluetooth needs to be configured; NFC is completely effort-free, requiring nothing more than a tap.
Big Indian Believer
Rigid, bulky lithium batteries have long set limits on the design of small electronics. But printed electronics technology allows the production of customizable, thin-film green batteries. These flexible alternatives may have a bright future in wearable electronic clothing and medical implants—or they might make possible a mobile phone as thin as a credit card. Several companies are now designing such batteries using printing methods much like those employed to make silk-screen T-shirts—but they lay down layers of electrochemical inks made of zinc, metal oxide, and electrolytes, rather than fluorescent dyes.
Mega printer RR Donnelley sees the potential and has become a believer in NFC and RFID products. In 2011 it claimed an equity position in Solicore, a leader in embedded power solutions, wherein the partners commercially agreed to develop printed batteries. This past April, the $10-billion Donnelley introduced innovative RFID and NFC production capabilities as part of its printed electronics strategy. These new capabilities enable the company to provide customers with unique printed NFC and RFID tags that can be embedded in a range of other Donnelley-produced products, including retail displays, product packaging, shipping labels, direct mail pieces, catalogs, and magazines.
“Our Digital Solutions offering is ideally positioned to help our customers create and execute extended consumer experiences,” explained Ken O’Brien, RR Donnelley’s chief information officer. “For example, we can produce interactive retail displays that direct customers to mobile optimized sites featuring content marketing and video, all of which we can help to create.”
CEO Thomas Quinlan added, “Now we offer customers single-source convenience and control as we produce their RFID and NFC tags and integrate them with other materials that we create. Even more, we can develop and host the mobile consumer experience initiated by interactive NFC tags and even provide response analytics about the programs’ effectiveness.” Ronnie Sarkar, Donnelley senior VP of technology innovations, stated: “The printed electronics solutions that we continue to develop significantly boost production flexibility. We can very quickly change the production line to accommodate different specifications, dramatically reducing the cycle time associated with bringing RFID and NFC tags to market.”
Donnelley’s manufacturing process allows customers to take advantage of flexible antenna design and production capabilities that tune the performance of their tags to specific applications for enhanced performance. The firm’s offering includes a complete suite of antenna design, testing, and proof-of-concept services to help customers identify optimal designs.
In related news this past spring, German RFID manufacturer Mühlbauer and NovaCentrix, the Austin, TX-based leader in printed electronics manufacturing technologies, established a formal collaboration for developing a flexible and cost-effective new RFID antenna printing technology. Under the agreement, Mühlbauer is developing, producing, and marketing scalable antenna production systems (APS) for RFID inlay/label manufacturers. These APS incorporate NovaCentrix’s patented PulseForge photonic curing tools. Unlike traditional oven technologies, the transient PulseForge process cures functional inks and thin films in milliseconds on low-temperature, flexible substrates such as paper and plastic -- without heating or damaging the underlying or adjacent substrates. Meanwhile, the low-cost Metalon ICI series of inks are formulated with copper-oxide nanoparticles along with a reduction agent, in water. After the ink is printed, PulseForge drives a reduction reaction, thereby converting the copper oxide into a thin film of highly conductive copper. This process is performed in ambient air on low-temperature substrates at speeds exceeding 98 feet per minute.