Thin Film Electronics ASA, a company that prints memory and logic circuits onto plastic films, has signed partnerships with three companies to create a cheap, disposable temperature sensor. The idea is to replace the current color-based sensors with accurate information that can retain history on the item it’s tracking and be sold for 20-40 cents each.
Their existence might be called the beginning of the stupid web — where every object –from individual vaccines to packages of ground beef — will have some modicum of intelligence but won’t be connected. This may not sound too exciting, but it’s the first step to a truly connected sensor web and what I like to think of as the web that talks back.
Thin Film makes memory that can store up to 128 bits of information on a piece of thin plastic. It teamed up with Xerox last year to raise money and to join Xerox’s thin-film logic technology to its memory, creating the potential brains for a sensor. Unlike the silicon-based chips that might be used as a sensor to track expensive shipments, or the still-pricey-but-less-expensive RFID sensors that might decorate high-end merchandise or large pallets of goods, Thin Film’s sensors should cost about 40 cents to make.
That makes it economical to track far more objects. And now it has signed a deal with a thin firm display maker (Acreo), a thin-film battery company out of the University of California at Berkeley (Imprint Energy) and a thin-film temperature reading startup (PST Sensors) to build out a complete self-contained sensor that can store data about its temperature. The sensor, which would have a shelf life of about six to nine months, would eventually drop to about 20 cents. Davor Sutija, CEO of Thin Film, envisions each dose of a vaccine bearing such a sensor to tell doctors that it has stayed within its optimal temperature range throughout its journey from manufacturing plant to the physician’s office.
Companies in the logistics or food industry might also employ such sensors for particular food items and they could be used to help reduce the spread of pathogens in the food supply perhaps. The temperature sensors are expected out by the end of this year. “We started with temperature because it’s the biggest market,” said Sutija.
After temperature sensors Thin Film has its eyes on humidity sensors and eventually building in radios to the sensors so they can communicate their information without something having contact with the thin-film tag. Once sensors have ways to communicate their information they are monitoring and have enough logic to store basic programs, such as, “if the temperature of this object goes above 40 degrees, send an email alert,” then we move from a stupid web, where humans can retroactively understand what an object has been through, to a far more intelligent web where objects will tell us that information themselves and even alert us when something is wrong.