The ability of front rank IT companies and academic researchers to come up with the dottiest possible storage technologies imaginable continues. Last year we had IBM's fantastical Millipede idea, with nanoscale hammers punching nanoscale dots in some substrate - like some massive array of nanoscale piano hammers in a container.
Not to be outdone, HP has got together with Princeton University to devise a new form of WORM. Naturally it is very small and can hold gigabytes of data. They say it is a write-once memory cell and can be produced very inexpensively from a commonly used plastic substance and a small amount of silicon.
The substance is PEDOT, or Poly-3,4-Ethylenedioxythiophene, which is a conducting polymer based on a heterocyclic thiphene ring bridged by an diether. This means it has the same conjugated backbone as polythiophene. (Lest this be gibberish I did a Google search on 'conjugated backbone' but couldn't understand the results which were full of phrases such as 'electronically conductive n-doped conjugated backbone polymer'. I gave up, feeling pretty much of an n-dope myself.)
PEDOT is used in antistatic coatings for photographic film and electrical contacts on video displays. It conducts electricity at low voltages, but is a semiconductor at higher voltages, according to Craig Perlov, a scientist with HP Labs.
If fuses are added to the material, and a high voltage is applied to specific areas of it, this would blow some fuses but leave others untouched. Voila; we have ones and zeros - blown and unblown fuses - and so the device could store data.
Why on earth is this interesting? The scientists say it's very, very small and very cheap. Manufacturers would be able to create extremely small storage devices with PEDOT as there are no moving parts involved. A square millimetre of the material could hold 1Mbit of data. A cubic centimetre-sized block could contain a sliver of PEDOT, which could hold 1GB of data. The research team envisages PEDOT memory cells rolling off a press, almost like a sheet of plastic wrapping used in the kitchen.
A PEDOT cube could function like an RFID device, or super-barcode, and be used for product and component ID purposes in shops, warehouses and manufacturing plants. It's similar in function to flash memory. Archiving is another potential application. A rewritable version is being pursued. Group a few cubes together and a 10cm by 100cm array could hold a terabyte.
The research has been published in Nature so it is scientifically respectable. Whether it will actually make it into products is another matter altogether. The researchers say it is a few years away from commercial viability.