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By Julian Matthews



E-Pass Wallet PC To Be Manufactured In MSC

June 3, 1997, Kuala Lumpur -- Malaysia will manufacture the e-pass, a next-generation multi-function smartcard touted as a "wallet PC", within the country's Multimedia Super Corridor.

A non-exclusive agreement for the venture was signed in London on May 21 between E-pass International Ltd of London and Malaysian companies TL Technology Research (M) Sdn Bhd and Iris Technologies (M) Sdn Bhd.

The deal was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad by signatories Hartmut Hennige, managing director of E-pass International, Ron Holland, chairman of Xanadu plc, the holding company of E-pass International, and representatives of the two local companies.

"The agreement brings one of the most exciting technological concepts in decades one important step nearer reality," said Holland at the signing.

The e-pass is a smartcard that is small enough to fit into a wallet and combines the functions of a credit card, cashless payments card, membership card, access control and passport, medical and personal data card, and transport token card.

The e-pass will have one or more display screens to show text or pictures, for example, the holder's picture or signature, and is operated with touch-sensitive menus on the display area.

The card will be powered by a polymer-based battery which will be rechargeable, when required, during a transaction process.

European scientist Hennige, who invented the card, holds the patents of the product in 39 countries including US, Canada, European Union countries, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and a group of African countries.

"Businesses are constantly demanding more powerful on-card facilities combined with high security and the ability to enable customer transactions across multiple locations and networks. It makes economic sense, therefore, to combine functions in a permanent, rechargeable card," Hennige told leading industry publication Smart Card News recently.

The e-pass card has been likened to the wallet PC described by Microsoft Corp's Bill Gates in his book "The Road Ahead".

Gates defined the wallet PC as a "pocket-sized computer with a snapshot-size color screen that you will use in place of many essentials you carry around with you today - money, keys, identification, credit cards, tickets - as well as items that provide you with mobile information and communications, such as a watch, newspapers or other reading material, address and appointment books, photographs, calculator, portable telephone and pager."

Yap said an initial investment of 6 million pounds has been set aside for the establishment of the e-pass plant, which will be located within the Multimedia Super Corridor, Malaysia's version of California's Silicon Valley.

Under the agreement, TL Technology Research and Iris Technologies will be the first companies in the world to design, develop and produce the e-pass wallet PC.

"We plan to produce the product within the next eighteen months, but can foresee an earlier timeframe," said TL Technology Research director Chas Yap.

Hennige will be the consultant to the project, while E-pass International will receive a percentage of all e-pass license fees and royalty for each card made.

Yap says the e-pass card will be made using Ferroelectric Random Access Memory (FRAM) technology.

FRAMs are high performance, low power semiconductors that retain data even after power has been lost or removed. The technology is solely licensed by US-based Ramtron International Corp.

"FRAM would be the ideal memory platform as it requires very low battery consumption coupled with fast read-write cycles plus the non-volatile nature makes it the perfect memory component," said Yap in an e-mail to JapanBiztech from London.

TL Technology Research and Iris Technologies are associated companies involved in the manufacture of contact and contactless smartcards for various applications such as airport baggage handling, passenger identification, and building access.

(Published in AsiaBizTech, June 3,1997)



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