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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tracking Documents With Printable Technology

Okay, time for some trippy future nerdy stuff.

What if you could track every piece of paper you printed? Know where it went, and detect it within 10 meters or so with a small electronic reader?

Would you want to if you could? Some of our customers might, and soon, there may be some technology to help them do it.

The idea is the same one that works in automatic toll transponders that beam your car’s information to a reader in the toll booth as you whiz through (angering all those poor slobs lined up like cattle in the manual lanes). Actually, it’s used with cattle, too. Transponders are frequently used to track the whereabouts of livestock .

The technology is called Radio Frequency Identification or RFID, and merchants like Wal-Mart are sending a clear signal to the marketplace that they’d like to put them on all of their products for tracking, inventory and even checkout purposes.

But because current RFID tags are made with silicon, and cost about 50 cents each to produce, it’s not yet cost effective.

But a collaboration by researchers at Sunchon National University in Suncheon, South Korea and Rice University in Texas has yielded a new RFID tag that can be PRINTED DIRECTLY on paper or plastic packaging, eliminating the need for silicon, and bringing the cost down to three cents a tag. The researchers developed a semiconducting ink, made with carbon nanotubes, capable of holding an electric charge.

At three-cents, it’s still pricey for tracking individual pieces of paper, but the researchers are looking to bring it down to one cent in the near future. Some of our friends at Xerox think this is a no brainer for our business.

Francois Ragnet, writing in his blog “The Future of Documents,” said “…At [one cent], and (needless to say) once this capability becomes available in office printers, that will make paper document tracking a reality…Just like we are thinking twice today before printing in color because it adds value to our documents (for a few pennies), we will also ask ourselves whether we want our documents to be fully traceable (for the same order of magnitude).”

Game-changer? Could be. What do you think?

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