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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Really Cheap Rectennas

A penny a pop. But wait, what’s a rectenna?

  • August 10, 2012

In today’s edition of the journal Nanotechnology, researchers from Korea’s Sunchon National University and the (also Korean) Paru Printed Electronics Research Institute present something they’re calling, curiously, the rectenna. Basically, it’s a type of near-field communication (NFC) technology, and a press release excitedly tells us how the rectenna can be “placed onto objects such as price tags, logos and signage so that we can read product information on our smartphones with one simple swipe.”

NFC’s nothing new, of course (though I don’t use it yet, and do you?), but the Korean team has something going here: they’ve figured out a way to print these things really cheaply. It’s promising rectennas for a penny a pop. NFC payments have been slow to take off (see “How the iPhone 5 Will Yet Again Fail to Eliminate Credit Cards”). There’s several reasons for this, but if pricing of the tech was at all a concern, no more. As the release notes, or rather hopes, “this new device could lead the way to large-scale adoption at low cost.”

More to the point, the team envisions using rectennas not as an element of a digital wallet, but more in the vein of QR codes (another quasi-ubiquitous technology that I don’t use, and I kind of doubt you do). If rectennas really made it easier to wave your iPhone over something–a sign, a product–to get more information in a moment, then it might have a real future.

Says study co-author Gyojin Cho: “Our advantage over current technology is lower cost, since we can produce a roll-to-roll printing process with high throughput in an environmentally friendly manner. Furthermore, we can integrate many extra functions without huge extra cost in the printing process. The application of NFC technology with the smartphone will be limitless in the near future. The medical, automotive, military and aerospace industries will benefit greatly.” 

What’s with the somewhat eyebrow-raising name? The rectenna combines the functions of an antenna and a rectifier–something that converts alternating current into direct current. So it’s a portmanteau word. And to be fair, it doesn’t seem to be of their coinage. But might I suggest to the team that they consider another name–perhaps “antennifier”?

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