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Smart phones, smart cars, and the like have come to define what innovation in the digital age largely consists of: Not creating new things, but, rather, upgrading existing things, so that using them feels like an entirely new experience. 

Sometimes, a smart version of something unlocks a number of changes. When we compare a smart phone like the iPhone to what Alexander Graham Bell was using, then there really is a world of improvement to acknowledge. In fact, it almost feels wrong to call smart phones “phones” anymore, as they really resemble portable computers with telecommunication features that are only a small part of what is offered by the devices. 

The same kind of innovation can be said about smart paper, which will make you realize that there is more to do with a sheet of paper than write or draw on. 

Smart Paper Upgrades Paper

Smart paper technology uses printed, sticker-applied, or drawn radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to embed sensor capabilities into a sheet of paper, creating a wide range of possibilities for using the paper, such as scanning the paper with a phone to lead to a website. 

These RFID tags are created through a number of ways.

Printing using conductive inks works. Conductive ink pens can also create RFID antennas, either with a stencil or by drawing freehand. 

Researchers from the University of Washington, Disney Research, and Carnegie Mellon University use silver nano-particle inks applied with an inkjet printer to create the tags. 

A Cost-Efficient Upgrade

RIFD antennas made with conductive ink don’t require wiring or battery power, and are inexpensive at about 10 cents each. 

Since paper is relatively inexpensive to begin with, most costs in smart paper production go to implementing the sensor. 

How Smart Paper Works

The sensors in the smart paper can transfer data from the paper to the phone, so that information that perhaps cannot fit on the paper itself can be accessed digitally. 

An RFID reader detects each tag’s unique ID, allowing for interaction with one tag at a time. Additionally, several tags can be interacted with to build more complex end uses. 

RFID reader software can recognize specific movements, such as a touch, slide, or hand wave, passing over the tag. 

When a hand interacts with the tag, the signal between the tag and reader is interrupted, which registers the interaction. 

Uses for Smart Paper

Smart paper opens up a range of activities, particularly for interactivity, such as between a business and a customer who sees a smart paper flyer in-store. In-store signage featuring RFID tags to show customers various benefits of a product, or deliver sales and coupons to their smartphones.

It can also be used in education as well. A teacher or professor can hand out a worksheet with RFID-tagged questions and have students use the tags (by touching or filling in a field with a conductive pen) to answer the questions. Meanwhile, an app on their laptop or device can give them immediate feedback on whether their answer is right or wrong. 

There are many uses for RFID tags in the world of business. An RFID tag on a business card can solidify much more connections at a networking or other event. Scanning the card with a smartphone or tablet can instantly take users to the card owner’s portfolio, resume, LinkedIn profile, social media page, or other important information.

Also, handing out RFID information sheets during meetings can make for a much more organized process, with everyone on the meeting having access to, say, the Powerpoint presentation. 

Better Security and Privacy 

Reducing counterfeiting and theft is another great use for this technology. 

Currency, legal papers, and other documents printed using smart paper makes counterfeiting difficult, as RFID tags, with their tiny physical footprint, can make it easier to identify whether a piece of currency comes from a legitimate source or not. 

In retail stores and other places that could potentially be robbed, RFID tags can make for a less obtrusive anti-theft device than the bulky sensors currently in use, making it easier to keep track of inventory. 

The Future of Paper

Even in this digital age, it is clear that paper will not be phased out, but will perhaps always be in use, for various reasons, from putting up flyers for an event or giving a quiz in school. 

Smart paper is slowly but surely becoming another “smart” product that will become part of everyday life, making communication and information access easier, all due to the RFID tag’s flexibility, feather-light weight, and low cost.