In the early days of home computers, cassette tapes were the storage medium of choice, from powering our Commodore 54s to loading Donkey Kong in as little as 10 minutes. Though the technology is now so dead that it confuses children, the tape is still heavily in use for backup purposes, and virtually every movie you own was mastered from one due to the far fewer points of failure than hard drives or other common storage options. Tape backups used to be common in home computers, but the cloud and cheap DVD-R discs have made them mostly a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not still useful. Sony, for one, has developed a new tape that can store 3 BD-50s worth of data per square inch.
Sony’s technique…uses a vacuum-forming technique called sputter deposition to create a layer of magnetic crystals by shooting argon ions at a polymer film substrate. The crystals, measuring just 7.7 nanometers on average, pack together more densely than any other previous method.
Vacuum-forming is pulling plastic around a shape, like the bubbles that hold an action figure or a pair of pliers to a packaging card. Essentially, they’re applying amazingly thin deposits of the material blasting it with the finest spray paint you can imagine. Argon is blasted at the material, which knocks atoms off of it like a game of Arkanoid, which then land on the target object, in this case, the tape.
If you want to see this process in action at its most extreme, check out the Giant Telescope episode of World’s Toughest Fixes on Netflix (segment starts at 37:50).
This tape is likely destined for industrial use, but since the time is coming sooner rather than later when were going to be expected to store hundreds of terabytes of movies that we download ourselves, this technology could still show up in consumer hard drives, themselves an evolution of magnetic tape, exponentially increasing capacity beyond today’s 4TB behemoths..