analysis of the RFID market, we noted that the cost of RFID tags was a major reason why the technology hasn't taken off as many had predicted. However various experiments are underway to produce a low-cost RFID chip. We mentioned MIT's bokodes in our analysis; others include Alien Technology, PolyIC, and ChronoTrack Systems' D-Tag. Kovio is another company aiming to bring down the cost of RFID chips. The cost is about 20 cents per chip today, but Kovio wants to get to 3 cents by 2015.In our
A recent profile of Kovio in San Jose Mercury News described how the company aims to produce "printed semiconductors." These won't rival the power of traditional chips by the likes of Intel, but their low cost could prove very useful in RFID chips (which Kovio calls "RF Barcodes") for retail goods. Kovio's goal is to achieve the type of functionality Tim Berners-Lee told us about in June: putting information about a product at the fingertips of the consumer.
The company was founded in 2001 by MIT scientists. The technology of Kovio is similar to inkjet printing - it uses silicon-based ink to print RFID tags, which can then be stuck onto cans of food, clothing and other surfaces. The company hopes to enable consumers to access product details, nutritional information and promotional programs - probably initially using mobile phones as the RFID reader.
Kovio has changed tack during the course of its existence, moving from the production of flexible displays to printed semiconductors. It's now pinning its hopes on the retail market, for example supermarkets.
As VentureBeat reported, Kovio recently raised $20 million in a fifth round of funding, bringing the investment total to a hefty $80M. The amount of money raised so far, the length of time it's taken to get to this point, the switch in product strategy, and the difficulties of the RFID market - all of this indicates that Kovio will struggle to hit the ball out of the park. However, it is a potentially huge market and could change the way consumers interact with retail goods. Plus Kovio has some heavyweight Silicon Valley investors, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Bessemer Venture Partners.
Kovio's latest round of investment was to fund a 95,000-foot "factory," which is about to move into production mode. This facility has two major customers right now. It remains to be seen how widespread these printed RFID tags from the likes of Kovio and PolyIC become, but we'll be monitoring the takeup with interest.