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Flexing the boundaries of flash memory

Flash memory is already a part of our daily computing lives. A breakthrough in flexible material may open many new market opportunities.

Organic Flash Memory
Organic Flash Memory
University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo recently announced the development of "organic flash memory," a nonvolatile memory that has the same basic structure as a flash memory and is made with organic materials.

Flash memory is a compact form of storage that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. To date, it's been primarily used in memory cards and USB flash drives, but during the past two years it has made its way to notebook SSD hard drives.

The memory developed at the University of Tokyo is physically flexible and can be used for large-area sensors, electronic paper and other large-area electronic devices if its memory retention time can be extended, beyond the current one-day limit. It also provides a glimpse of how computing devices could become more physically versatile depending on the situation and other components necessary to make the device work.

There are a broad range of places where non-linear, flexible technologies could make sense. Consider the possibility of wearable storage that conforms to a body shape for video capture, or the ability to use rounded objects as storage devices. This also opens the door for all kinds of practical and nefarious uses--monitoring tire pressure or capturing the data from someone's shoe to find out where they've been.

And while it will likely be a number of years before technology like this is ready for prime-time, it also shows tenets such as Moore's Law related to processors may be usurped by other functions such as the ability to be pliable. It also speaks to the fact that IT as industry needs to continue to push the boundaries on commonly accepted practices and invest in hardware innovation, not just in consumer-facing Web sites and social networks.

Flash has become a highly profitable niche for a number of players such as Sandisk, Toshiba, and Samsung with third quarter 2009 global sales rising 26 percent over the second quarter of 2009. Incidentally, electronics research firm iSuppli noted that the average selling price of NAND flash climbed 40 percent sequentially in the third quarter, double the second quarter's increase. Prices are expected to slip 2.9 percent sequentially in the fourth quarter, according to iSuppli estimates.