Super-cheap chips for NFC

Near-Field Communication (NFC) could become a lot more widespread, with the development of an all-in-one device costing just a penny.

Like a barcode or a QR code, the rectenna can be placed onto objects such as price tags, logos and signage, allowing product information to be read using a smartphone with a single swipe. Unlike these, though, it allows two-way communication.

“The application of NFC technology with the smartphone will be limitless in the near future. The medical, automotive, military and aerospace industries will benefit greatly,” says co-developer Gyoujin Cho.

Created by researchers from Sunchon National University and Paru Printed Electronics Research Institute, the rectenna can harness power directly from radio waves given off by a mobile phone, converting AC into DC. The protptype version, for example, can provide more than 0.3 W of power from an alternating current with a frequency of 13.56 MHz.

The big breakthrough is the production method, which gets the cost down to just a penny a throw. The team printed the rectennas onto plastic foils in large batches using a roll-to-roll process and five different electronic inks.

The big advantage over QR codes is is that the tags contain a small computer chip or digital information, operated by DC power.

“What is great about this technique is that we can also print the digital information onto the rectenna, meaning that everything you need for wireless communication is in one place,” says Cho.

“Our advantage over current technology is lower cost, since we can produce a roll-to-roll printing process with high throughput in an environmentally friendly manner. Furthermore, we can integrate many extra functions without huge extra cost in the printing process.”