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Industry Insight

Paper Drives

By Richard Romano
Published: November 26, 2012

There was a time when, as a member of the press (or, I should say, media, as the term “press” has become a bit of an anachronism in this age of online news sites like WhatTheyThink) I would go to a trade show and receive press releases and press kits on paper. These were actually very convenient (and still are), and required little effort to scan quickly, misinterpret equipment specs, and dash off a news story or show report. Now, I am more likely to receive press materials on a USB drive (aka flash drive, thumb drive, etc.). As a result, following Graph Expo and SGIA last month alone, I have a box full of these USB drives. Naturally, I don’t want to just chuck them (I don’t know what percentage of our annual e-waste is due to USB drives, but I’d be curious to find out; I have been unable to find statistics), they are not yet numerous enough for me to go to the effort of recycling them, and my daily USB drive requirements are fairly modest if, in fact, pretty non-existent. So in the box they languish. Which is why I was interested to read news—via Two Sides UK—of the efforts of a company called Intellipaper which is rolling out, so to speak, a paper-based USB drive. The actual electronic portion of a USB drive required to store data is pretty small; the rest is just a convenient size and form for carrying around and inserting it into the actual USB port. So why not make most of the drive out of paper? Says TechNewsDaily:
[caption id="attachment_10008" align="alignright" width="300"] Intellipaper[/caption] USB drives can take on all kinds of shapes, limited only by the size of the port. Intellipaper plans to roll out one with a memory chip embedded in a sheet of paper. That not only makes it about as small as possible, but also foldable and thin as a sheet of card stock. The resulting device can do all the things a normal flash drive can, but you can also mail it cheaply as part of a postcard. And because the drives consist mostly of paper, they can go into the recycling instead of the trash. ... If you receive such a card, you tear off the bit of card stock with the embedded memory chip along a perforation, fold the torn bit twice to make the drive thicker and then plug it right into a USB slot.
The company is still working on the drives, and thus far the capacity is limited to 66MB and are read-only, but Intellipaper is developing them apace. They envision one of the biggest uses to be electronic business cards (I’d also vote for press kits). TechNewsDaily evaluated the performance of some early demo “units”:
The demo units survived their trip in the mail to us. We then tested their durability in a wallet (where a business card will likely go), and after exposure to water. Getting rubbed repeatedly with fingers and in a leather wallet didn't seem to affect them, at least not in any way we could tell. Dipping them in water did, though. The drive didn't work after getting wet, as the paper became too soft to slide into the USB slot. That could be a problem if a business card is in a back pocket on a hot day, or anywhere on a rainy day. The drive did work after it dried out, though it might not if it were rolled up into a mushy ball when wet.
It’s a pretty cool idea, although I do wonder how the electronic chip portion of the paper-based drive affects its ability to be recycled. Still, I’d love to get my hands on a unit or two.

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.



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