When Photos Talk

A new "memory stamp" turns physical objects like postcards and photos into hyperlinks

Vacation snapshots are nice, but wouldn´t they be nicer if you could swipe your cellphone over them to retrieve video, sound files and captions? That´s the idea behind the Memory Spot, an adhesive chip in development at Hewlett-Packard´s Bristol, England, facility. The stamp-like memory device comes in two sizes, 1.4 or 2 millimeters square. Affixed to a photo or document, it can store and transfer up to four megabytes of data, enough for a short video or a couple songs.

Howard Taub, associate director of HP Labs, likens the Memory Spot to radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags but notes some key differences. Both use radio waves to transfer data, but the Memory Spot works at a higher frequency. As a result, the antenna embedded in the chip--and the chip itself--can be thinner. The tradeoff is transmission distance: Whereas RFID can work from across a room, the Memory Spot requires nearly direct contact with a reader to transfer data. Ideally, the reader would be built into your phone or some other handheld device. Wave it over the Memory Spot, and in less than a second you´d have your file.

Aside from photos, Taub says, the stamps could be used to store medical records on patient wristbands or to authenticate prescription-pill bottles. Expect it on store shelves in the next two years.