Xerox licenses Thinfilm printed storage tech for smart labels

The Norwegian printed electronics firm Thinfilm has formed a strategic partnership with Xerox around printed storage. Xerox will license Thinfilm’s proprietary technology and make Thinfilm Memory labels, which have some very interesting characteristics.

Each label, costing a few pennies, is a plastic tag that’s based on ferroelectric capacitors and allows for power-free archival storage in the 10-15-year range. This isn’t some data center technology though; we’re only talking 10-36 bits. They are however very rewriteable – the data can be rewritten 100,000 times. This means the labels are perfect for continually storing and refreshing the output of sensors.

According to Thinfilm chief Davor Sutija, the two most important applications will be in smart consumables and brand authentication. In the former case, the labels could be added to ink cartridges or soap dispensers to store measurements how often the product is used, or to the blister packaging of medicines, to help associate the numbers of pills that have been taken with the patient’s ID.

The brand authentication possibilities stem from the fact that Thinfilm’s printed memory labels are – according to Sutija – essentially impossible to forge. The label is “a polymer that’s 130 nanometers thick and printed between two metal electrodes – you’re storing information by essentially taking a polymer and turning it to the left or the right,” he told me. “It’s not much more than 1,000 atomic layers. We can detect with a precision of a few percent whether the thickness is correct.”

Xerox has been working on printed electronics for around a decade and a half at its PARC research facility, and has worked with Thinfilm since 2011 as its partner for the commercial development of printed logic products, making sure that Thinfilm’s memory and PARC’s transistors work well together. Xerox’s licensing of Thinfilm’s technology is a new step in the relationship – Sutija said he expects Xerox’s Rochester, New York facility to pump out a billion of the tags each year.

Thinfilm picked up $23 million in funding last October, and also recently partnered up with the U.K.’s Evrythng on identity management for the internet of things.

This article was updated at 6.40am PT to clarify the nature of Thinfilm and Xerox’s collaboration over the last several years.