The ADN of Things: How to Store Information on Almost Any Object

If information and big data are the holy grail of the new economy, data storage is a challenge that will require innovative approaches. As they say, no matter how large your handbag is, it always ends up full. Thus, in a context with ever-growing amounts of information -every minute, five hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube– finding cheaper and more efficient ways of storing it has become the goal for many research teams and engineers. Over the last few years, progress has been made with new solid-state drives (SSDs), but maybe there is a far more innovative technology just around the corner. At least that is the route followed by the ETH Zurich labs that, jointly with an Israeli scientist, have developed a new technology capable of storing information on almost any object.

To achieve it, the Swiss research team has integrated several technologies around a single, and revolutionary, concept: the AND of things. The starting point was a nanoscale 3D-printing technique that can store information on tiny crystal beads to create microscopic barcodes printable on everyday surfaces. This information, a short 100-bit code, can be accessed later and last for years. Some of its applications include the verification of goods or tracking them through the distribution chain. Additionally, Yaniv Erlich had been working on a method that could potentially store 215,000 terabytes worth of information on a single gram of ADN.

Now the lab has joined forces with Erlich to develop an innovative technology project. Their first demonstration was carried out with a 3D-printed plastic rabbit. With a little twist, of course. The object has embedded crystal beads that store the information required to print another rabbit, which could be thought of as a synthetic DNA. In a way, this approach would follow biomimetic design principles, i.e., human technologies based on natural principles. So far, they have managed to store information on a megabyte scale, and the product price is far from competitive, but they are paving the way to a future when a button, a glass or a bottle will be able to store vast amounts of information.

Commercial applications (and some “sneaky” ones too)      

The team of researchers has mentioned several applications for their technology. For the time being, some of the most relevant would be embedding data in medicines or construction materials. In this way, they could be easily identified and made fake proof. Just picture objects with their ID card. However, one of the most striking applications would have to do with a technique known as steganography. This term, with Greek roots, means “hidden writing.” I.e., hiding messages in objects. Invisible ink would be one of the most common methods. Technically, the DNA of things could allow storing information on any object, going unnoticed by prying eyes.    

Source: Science Daily

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