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Researchers Print Electronic Memory On Paper

Unknown Lamer posted about 5 months ago | from the pen-and-paper-computing dept.

Data Storage 78

MTorrice (2611475) writes Electronics printed on paper promise to be cheap, flexible, and recyclable, and could lead to applications such as smart labels on foods and pharmaceuticals or as wearable medical sensors. Many engineers have managed to print transistors and solar cells on paper, but one key component of a smart device has been missing—memory. Now a group of researchers has developed a method that uses ink-jet technology to print resistive random access memory on an ordinary letter sized piece of paper. The memory is robust: Engineers could bend the device 1,000 times without any loss of performance. The memory is not yet very dense, but could be: "Each silver dot they printed was approximately 50 microns across and separated from its neighbor by 25 microns, so each bit of memory is 100 microns on a side. At that size, a standard 8.5- by 11-inch piece of paper can hold 1 MB of memory. Der-Hsien Lien, the paper's lead author, says existing ultrafine ink-jet technology can produce dots less than 1 micron across, which would allow the same piece of paper to hold 1 gigabyte. Reading and writing the bits takes 100 to 200 microseconds"

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Old news... (5, Funny)

chinton (151403) | about 5 months ago | (#47516375)

I've been printing my memory on paper since I could hold a pencil...

Re:Old news... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516619)

Wow ... you were either very slow to learn how to hold a pencil or became instantly literate ... we all know which was more likely.

Re:Old news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47518761)

ROFL @ You for missing that!!

Re:Old news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47531917)

I don't know, 'memory' doesn't have to be text, it could be pictures.

Re:Old news... (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 5 months ago | (#47516677)

I've been printing my memory on paper since I could hold a pencil...

Yes, but you've been cheating by using wide-ruled paper and double-spacing.

Re:Old news... (1)

gatfirls (1315141) | about 5 months ago | (#47516825)

Pretty sure I was passing 1Mb per sheet when I was 9.

When I got assigned sentences when I got in trouble I would write them as small as possible to be a little jerk.

Re:Old news... (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 5 months ago | (#47516963)

Should that be mega bit or mega byte?

Re:Old news... (1)

MondoGordo (2277808) | about 5 months ago | (#47517309)

Your level of surety is irrelevant and your estimate is inaccurate... Using an 8 point font it's possible to fit 7727 characters on a sheet of paper 8.5" x 11" printing edge to edge with 0 line spacing... that falls significantly short of 1 MByte or even 1Mbit.

Re:Old news... (1)

gatfirls (1315141) | about 5 months ago | (#47517393)

You must be a blast at parties.

Re:Old news... (1)

someone1234 (830754) | about 5 months ago | (#47517789)

Ever scanned handwritten documents?

Re:Old news... (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47518337)

How many colors are your 7727 characters, and do they include Unicode support?

Density (4, Interesting)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47516395)

What's the current density of machine-readable written information on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper?

I'm going to guess more than a meg.

Re:Density (3, Insightful)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 5 months ago | (#47516409)

What's the current density of read/write randomly-accessible information?

Re:Density (3, Interesting)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47516587)

Paper is already at least WORM, and depending on your format, randomly-accessible.

I don't suggest that this isn't interesting, I'm just asking a question about machine readable printed information density.

How many distinct characters or pixels can we reliably scan in from an 8.5x11 sheet of paper? What density of information allows us to have 4 or 8 or 16 or 256 colors of pixels?

Re:Density (1)

esampson (223745) | about 5 months ago | (#47516641)

Let's assume you carve your page up into 'pixels'. If each 'pixel' is one bit (2 colors or on or off) then you would have to have pixels of 100 microns (.1mm) on a side to have the same information density as this process. If each 'pixel' is 4 bits (16 colors) then your pixels would only have to be .2mm on a side to retain the same information density. I kind of doubt you could distinguish between 256 different colors reliably enough for computer reading of data under varying light conditions but if we assume you can that would mean your pixels could be just under half a millimeter in size.

Re:Density (3, Interesting)

Ravaldy (2621787) | about 5 months ago | (#47516711)

I don't think most people understand the application for this.

Printing RFIDs has existed for many years now (at least 10 that I know of) and is mostly used for quickly scanning contents of a box without having to handle each item inside of it. It is also used to track inventory leaving an area (e.g. a tool storage room).

Adding memory to this equation means you can store data on the paper until the transaction is complete. I can't come up with a reason for this on the spot but I can imagine there are processes that could benefit from it.

From a security standpoint you could store an encrypted password on the paper... Much easier than having to type a 256 character passcode.

Re:Density (3, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about 5 months ago | (#47516857)

Adding memory to this equation means you can store data on the paper until the transaction is complete. I can't come up with a reason for this on the spot but I can imagine there are processes that could benefit from it.

But once you can uniquely identify each object (with a simple bar code or RFID), it's easy to associate any amount of information with it, in a database somewhere. The more ubiquitous network connectivity becomes, the more location transparency you have, and the less need to store information directly in a specific place.

In short, this is a floppy disk, but on a paper backing.

Re:Density (1)

Ravaldy (2621787) | about 5 months ago | (#47524439)

Yes but there are situations where you have equipment with no access to networks. In those cases (and I realize it's less and less common) there is value in having the ability to store dynamic content on paper.

Re:Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47518125)

Or we could finally achieve completely homemade robotics. That is to say, we could 3d print the chassis and then print the computer components without the need for a semiconductor fabrication plant.

Re:Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47520881)

Adding memory to this equation means you can store data on the paper until the transaction is complete. I can't come up with a reason for this on the spot but I can imagine there are processes that could benefit from it.

Not to mention the flexibility, low cost and other benefits. It certainly makes Squink look a lot more interesting too.

http://techcrunch.com/2014/07/... [techcrunch.com]

Re:Density (1)

paysonwelch (2505012) | about 5 months ago | (#47516603)

You could theoretically use other technologies as a baseline. One technology that comes to mind is how archivists are digitally printing information onto nickel plates because of it's durability. The data is then read back using an electron microscope. In theory if you could microprint binary data onto paper you could read it back with an electron microscope.

Re:Density (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516627)

Um... assuming 1/4" nonprintable margin, a regular 300 dpi printer can do 8 * 10.5 * 300 * 300 = 7,560,000 bits = 945,000 Bytes in black and white. Multiply by 4 for 600 dpi or by 16 for 1200 dpi. Then multply by 4 for CYMK, and by another 16 if your printer can do 4-bit color.

8 * 10.5 * 1200 * 1200 * 4 * 16 / 8 bits = 967,680,000 Bytes for a 1200 dpi 4-bit color laser printer. That's nearly 1GB.

Re:Density (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47516777)

We can obviously scan well above 1200dpi, but determining each printed pixel's true nature reading 1200dpi ink-on-paper would be challenging.

Re:Density (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 5 months ago | (#47517541)

And if dpi directly translated to individual sprayed dots, that would be useful. Inkjet printers spray microdroplets that aren't strictly locked to the pixel grid. And CMYK are not all perfectly aligned with one another.

Still, that inkjet printed page can't read itself. A circuit printed on the page could.

Re:Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516797)

Nitpicking, but the size of each memory cell is only 75nm, not 100nm. Cells are measured from mid-point to mid-point between consecutive cells. Alternatively, if cells are 100nm wide, those on either side are only 50nm wide.
  -- Newall

Re:Density (2)

DudeTheMath (522264) | about 5 months ago | (#47516917)

Yeah, I was bothered by that, too. 8.5x11 paper is 603.22 cm^2, so we can fit roughly 6032200 100 micron^2 on the sheet, or about 736KB. Now, if it's really 75 microns on a side, the density goes up by 16/9 to 1309KB. Maybe they're leaving a margin? TFA gives the "100 micron" and "1MB" values, so it's not the poster but probably the reporter who made the mistake.

Re:Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517091)

Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517117)

A Version-40 (177 by 177) QR code can encode 1264 characters. Extrapolate that up to the pixel density of an 8.5x11" sheet of paper should yield a decent capacity.

Re:Density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47518173)

There are a few things that can do that. One of them is dataglyph, but it's horribly proprietary. Then there's optar and PaperBack, both a bit unpolished. The optar homepage claims about 200kB for a sheet of A4 (using a 1200x600dpi scanner), and PaperBack about 500000 bytes, using a 600dpi printer and >=900dpi (hardware, not interpolated) scanner.

That's for black and white, perhaps that you can get more out of a colour (laser) printer, and perhaps if you can get higher (hardware, not "enhanced") dpi printers you might up the storage a bit more. IIRC industrial offset printers can go as high as 2400 dpi, which should go well over a megabyte.

If you are using paper anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516455)

Why not use 2D barcodes? Ink is cheap and can be printed with a $25 printer that everyone already has. Ink-on-paper has very well-known keeping properties. 2D barcode formats are widely used, reasonably well-documented, some of them are open, and seem to have agreed schemes for dealing with data loss and reconstruction.

The advantage of these silver dots seems to be that they can be automatically read by a machine. But wait, so can barcodes. I'm struggling to come up with a reason this would ever be useful.

Re:If you are using paper anyway (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 5 months ago | (#47516559)

Read/Write. This isn't simply printing.

Re:If you are using paper anyway (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 5 months ago | (#47517551)

If you're working with a printed circuit (think a computer on a magazine page or a greeting card), it's useful if the silver dots can be read by the printed circuit without an additional machine or any (relatively) large equipment at all.

Math (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516461)

If their memory is as good as their math, this isn't going anywhere. A dot of 50 microns by 50 microns separated from its neighbors by 25 microns on all sides results in 75 microns by 75 microns per dot. If you count 100 microns, you count each gap twice.

Re:Math (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47516601)

Perhaps there are both em and en spaces between their dots :)

That's great (2)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 5 months ago | (#47516493)

However, this technology will very probably disappear like so many others. Anyone remember the technology that allows you to store giga- to terrabytes of data on a few layers of Tesa strip? Read by laser without any moving parts, prototyped at a time when CDs were still the standard medium? Well, this never made it into a buyable product either.

My humble theory is that market forces do not always promote the best solution. After all, why should corporations put something new on the market if it would give them less opportunities to rip you off in the long run? :-(

The good news is that this technology has better chances of success than the Tesa strip solution, because ... ink cartridges! ;-)

Re:That's great (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | about 5 months ago | (#47516623)

Given that tape data storage refuses to die, I too have to wonder why there is not optical tape. Anyway, with this paper available, my 16kbyte ZX81 RAM pack is beginning to look dated, they could print it on a large postage stamp.

Ink? Nope. (4, Funny)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47516685)

because ... ink cartridges! ;-)

Think milk cartons. That sing joyful tunes and jingles when you open your fridge.

Packaging that remembers you - wherever you are.
Which will give you your very own personal discount cause it knows that your milk carton at home is only just opened, but it knows from your profile that you like a bargain.

Products will express you when you buy them, and sadness when you don't.
They will be your friends. They will know your favorite things.
They will love you like you were never loved by anyone else.
Your dog will be jealous. Your cat will try to kill them.

Re:Ink? Nope. (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#47516945)

I dread our future ad-riddled overlords.

Re:Ink? Nope. (1)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 5 months ago | (#47517153)

that is the creepiest thing i've read all day.

Re:Ink? Nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517359)

Think milk cartons. That sing joyful tunes and jingles when you open your fridge.

Packaging that remembers you - wherever you are.

Think "Surveillance".

Because, you can bet that someone is thinking that already.

Products will express JOY when you buy them. (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47517751)

Although... they may express FOR you.
Like that box of condoms humming "Get Lucky" in your pocket all the time during your ride home.

Re:Ink? Nope. (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 5 months ago | (#47520701)

On a side note... I've recently bought an Intel NUC, and when I opened the packaging the box started playing the Intel Jingle (*). Totally creepy and wasteful, I couldn't believe it. Intel definitely jumped the shark IMHO. I don't buy crap that often, is this common already?

Oh and if any Intel engineers are reading this post, I'd love to hear what you think about that particular piece of genius.

Re:Ink? Nope. (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 months ago | (#47521057)

Totally creepy and wasteful, I couldn't believe it.

Marketing usually is.

On the other hand... People love [youtube.com] their singing [youtube.com] boxes. [youtube.com]
And you got to admit - it got you talking about it.

Just like the talking packaging of the future will talk to you. Hey! People love when Siri does it!
Just think of the joy of THAT from every shelve.

And of people greeting their detergents and talking to them on their way to register.

Re:Ink? Nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47520811)

Clearly only felines are smart enough to stand up and fight back against the rising tide of advertising.

Who am I kidding? I'd welcome them, but they're already our overlords. Meow continue on your way Citizen.

Transistors was there but memory was not? WTF (2)

pegdhcp (1158827) | about 5 months ago | (#47516495)

This should be a new component in electronics, right? "Memory" as a component! I should not stop reading periodicals after the school.Or maybe somebody should star reading such, before copy pasting crap...

Re:Transistors was there but memory was not? WTF (2)

MondoGordo (2277808) | about 5 months ago | (#47516599)

a transistor by itself is not memory ... just as a gear by itself is not a clock. They have to be connected in specific ways to function as memory ... all the article is saying this is the first time that configuration has been done with print tech ... not that it couldn't have been done before, just that no-one had.

Re:Transistors was there but memory was not? WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516697)

More like, a transistor by itself is not memory ... just as an engine by itself is not a car.

Re:Transistors was there but memory was not? WTF (1)

esampson (223745) | about 5 months ago | (#47516693)

This is resistive random access memory, which is non-volatile. Yes, with transistor you could have printer other forms or RAM before, but you would have to keep supplying power or that memory would erase itself.

GREAT IDEA! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516555)

Hey! We could load programs on paper cards and use them to batch install/run programs in the future. Or instead of 8.5 x 11 paper, we could make a continuous stream of paper, like a tape, to read/write data to. The future looks bright!

Re:GREAT IDEA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517285)

How about punching holes on the paper cards instead of using ink?

Magnetic strip? (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 5 months ago | (#47516607)

Electronic memory printed on paper - how is that different from a magnetic strip - the same thing we used to call an 'audio tape'.

Re: Magnetic strip? (1)

red_dragon (1761) | about 5 months ago | (#47516699)

What I gather from this is that they managed to print the memory and the circuitry to read/write it. So, instead of requiring a mechanical transport and a magnetic head, you simply connect wires to contacts along the edge of the circuit, and use electrical signals to access the data, eliminating the need for moving components.

Re:Magnetic strip? (3, Insightful)

esampson (223745) | about 5 months ago | (#47516741)

Audio tape is sequential access, not random access. The same thing with the magnetic strip. Usually this isn't a problem because the magnetic strip on your card contains a very small amount of information so it is quick to read the entire sequence but if you had to sequentially load just 16k of information from a tape it could take some time.

Ask anyone who had a home computer before floppy disks became available.

But what if... (4, Funny)

rhazz (2853871) | about 5 months ago | (#47516617)

If I store my MP3s on this sheet of paper and then photocopy it, is that copyright infringement?

Re:But what if... (1)

Ravaldy (2621787) | about 5 months ago | (#47516647)

You can't photocopy it.

Re:But what if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517301)

Finally! DRM that works!

Re:But what if... (1)

Falos (2905315) | about 5 months ago | (#47516867)

> is that copyright infringement?
Copyright lawyers have prepared the below flowchart to help identify what they will consider unauthorized copies or infringement that are potentially actionable:

Is it a day that ends in 'y'?
Then yes.

Is it a day that doesn't end in 'y'?
Then super yes.

When I can play Asteroids on the back of a box... (3, Funny)

uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) | about 5 months ago | (#47516653)

...it will be hard to get me to leave the breakfast table.

I'm seeing a whole line of Atari cereals, and a competing line of Mattel Electronics Intellicereals. Maybe get Alan Alda and George Plimpton's faces on the boxes to keep the kids away from Dad's stuff.

Re:When I can play Asteroids on the back of a box. (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 5 months ago | (#47517597)

Man, don't be disregarding the tween-deterring visages of Isaac Asimov, William Shatner or Bill Cosby.

Re:When I can play Asteroids on the back of a box. (1)

hattig (47930) | about 5 months ago | (#47521179)

It does seem that they nearly have all the ingredients to make a viable 8-bit computer on a (small) sheet of paper now. I guess an Atari 2600 could fit in a fairly small area with it's 128 bytes of RAM (1 cm^2) and other simple logic. This printed RAM access speed isn't great though - 200us is three orders of magnitude too slow compared to even the memory in those old computers. Hopefully shrinking these RAM dots will also improve speed.

Notebook computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516669)

I think that one is taken already.

3M (2)

just_another_sean (919159) | about 5 months ago | (#47516679)

Well, if they come up with a scheme to encrypt the paper maybe it will finally be safe for all those lazy users to store their passwords on a post it note. Should be able to squeeze at least 640K onto a post it note, should be enough for anybody.

Disruptive tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47516729)

The coolest part about this is that _you_could_do_this_at_home_ with normal'ish printer technologies.
Printing your own circuitry instead of depending on multi-billion $ RAM fab is extremely interesting for the 'maker' community.

Re:Disruptive tech (2)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 5 months ago | (#47516871)

Ink will cost more than a divorce.

Re:Disruptive tech (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47516939)

Divorce is expensive because it's worth it.

Re:Disruptive tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517397)

Only if you're stupid enough to get married in the first place.

Re:Disruptive tech (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#47518359)

Who else gets divorced? Unmarried people?

Dolt.

Save the trees! (1)

Daniel Oom (2826737) | about 5 months ago | (#47517229)

Say goodbye to our forests if this tech should ever become widespread.

A whole MB? (3, Funny)

clovis (4684) | about 5 months ago | (#47516923)

640K should be enough for anyone.

hmm... how many reams of memory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47517255)

Now if they came up with an interconnect method between the sheets, imagine installing memory in your computer as reams of paper...

We've had field-writable ROM paper for years (2)

davidwr (791652) | about 5 months ago | (#47517543)

I can see the advantages of cheap, relatively-high-speed paper RAM but remember, we've had high-density paper ROM since the age of micro-fine printing, and low-density paper ROM since the invention of, well, paper.

We've also had very-slow-to-erase "eraseable ROM" on paper since the invention of the eraser.

In prehistoric times, we had it was low-density ROM on cave walls.

The rain ate my homework - honest! (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 5 months ago | (#47517553)

AKA "Some tears fell on my diary, and now I've lost everything!"

compared to QR codes? (1)

micahraleigh (2600457) | about 5 months ago | (#47517577)

I'm not sure how you couldn't just do the same thing with QR codes.

That way you always grab (potentially) current data.

Less expensive too.

Re:compared to QR codes? (1)

Andy_R (114137) | about 5 months ago | (#47517645)

QR codes are write once and take a lot of processing power to read, the article is talking about reusable, electronically accessible memory.

my LASER's bigger than yours! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 5 months ago | (#47518061)

QR codes are write once and take a lot of processing power to read, the article is talking about reusable, electronically accessible memory.

Obviously written by someone without a powerful enough LASER.
All you need is a webcam, a LASER and proper archival media.

CHA [tvtropes.org]

Fencepost error! (2)

crepe-boy (950569) | about 5 months ago | (#47519521)

50 micron dot + 25 micron separation = 75 microns per bit, not 100.

Printed toilet paper. (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 5 months ago | (#47520427)

Now your internet of things house will be able to remind you that you didn't quite use enough toilet paper.

It'll be awesome, Text messages reminding you to wipe more.

Papyrux (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47520777)

I started this new "Papyrux" distro and one of it's hihlights is the
"fold-daemon" that automatically folds the paper when at low batt.

There are still some bugs to iron out though. When you're male and
put the folded paper in your pants front pocket, it can spontaneously
unfold, and be mistaken for something completely different 'unfolding'...

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