New chip goes beyond serial numbers

January 28, 2008 7:48:19 AM PST
Now that barcodes are attached to practically everything, the barcode is being replaced by the RFID tag -- an almost invisible computer chip that goes beyond serial numbers. It can be linked to sound and pictures, too.

Say you're snowboarding. You take a movie of yourself. What if you could attach that movie to the snowboard? Later, whenever someone points a telephone at the snowboard, the movie begins to play on the phone.

That's the idea of Monto Kumagai of Davis, an entrepreneur who wants to give every inanimate object its own memories.

You know that great fishing story you have to tell? Let the lure tell the story. And that lure is actually the Repala lure that my daughter caught a trout with.

Touch it to a PDA like this one, and you will see her movie taken in Alaska. The secret is a tiny chip called an RFID tag.

It is commonly attached to clothing and other retail items for tracking and monitoring, but Monto has attached one behind the decal on this snowboard.

The idea came to him while he was doing lab work on tens of thousands of plant samples -- each with its own video and photo. Mere barcode can't handle that.

"How do you actually associate the video/photo files? So what we ended up doing is inserting a RFID tag inside the cap," said Monto Kumagai from Xtreme Signpost.

In reality, an RFID chip doesn't have the capacity to store movies. But it can store an Internet address to a movie. So, for example, Monto can use a phone to take a video, then upload it to YouTube.

It is the YouTube address that he stores on the chip, by pointing one of the few phones that can read and write to RFID.

Even an iPhone, can play the movie, but not read the chips -- yet.

"In the next year, you'll see many, many more cell phones that will have readers," said Kumagai.

Until then, Monto has a chip on his shoulder. Well, OK, in his hat.

"Xtreme Signpost" is a term used by climbers to describe messages left in remote locations under extreme conditions -- speaking of extreme conditions.