Motorola to diversify in a new direction
Whether you love or loathe Motorola, it's hard to not be amazed at the depth and diversity of its product portfolio that includes almost every imaginable means of communication, from network infrastructure to myriad devices.
It was on vivid display this week during the Motorola's financial analysts meeting, where the company unleashed a flurry of impressive announcements. But the innovation that captured my attention most was not the subject of any press release, although it did spawn this memorable rhetorical question from CEO Ed Zander during an onstage demonstration Monday night:
"We're in the ink business now?"
Well, maybe not right now, but ink is in Motorola's future. Of course, we're not talking about traditional ink. What Motorola unveiled was its printed transistor technology that embeds near-field communications capability into myriad surfaces — everything from posters to cardboard to labels — without disrupting its appearance.
In a nutshell, the Motorola technology essentially transfers printed circuitry techniques used to make silicon-based transitions and applies them to other surfaces, according to Motorola's Tim Collins. With this technology, for example, a traditionally passive can label can become an interactive medium.
The implications are enormous. Without getting into specifics, Collins said Motorola's printed transistor technology will cost "substantially" less than an RFID tag and can be integrated more easily into the manufacturing process — characteristics that would seem to make item-level tracking realistic.
This is near-field communications, so the technology's range is limited, but Collins foresees a scenario where the printed transistors can communicate their information to another device — perhaps an RFID tag at the palette level, or a transceiver in a kitchen pantry — that could relay the data greater distances.
For an RFID-savvy enterprise, it could know when each item on a palette is removed, not just learn when the entire palette changes location. At a consumer level, shoppers at a grocery store could remotely monitor the "inventory" their pantries before making buying decisions. The fact that there are so many potential uses for the technology in both the business and consumer sectors offers promising economies-of-scale benefits in the future.
Although Motorola has printed transistors working, it may be some time before we see the technology available commercially, Collins said.
"It's a new technology, and we're still playing with it to see what we can do," he said.
If the technology is ready for prime time relatively soon, Motorola's "ink" project could help the company effectively print money to put in its coffers.
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