The humble USB drive could soon be using a new type of memory thanks to research from the Arizona State University.
The college's Center for Applied Nanoionics (CANi) has developed a new technique for storing memory that could lead to flash memory being superseded in a number of years.
The new memory technology, which is known as programmable metallisation cell (PMC), has been developed to counteract the physical limits of current memory storage technology. The college claimed that PMC could be a 1,000 times more efficient than existing flash memory and could enable devices like USB drives to greatly increase the memory of digital cameras, MP3 players and laptops.
The problem that CANi has been tackling is the physical limit of how much storage can be crammed into any given space as pushing atoms closer together causes more heat to be formed. PMC, which has been developed in conjunction with German institute, the Jülich Research Center, works by altering the way that ions are treated.
According to the ASU's own publication, ASU Insight, the methodology involves the new technique of nanoionics. Instead of moving electrons among charged particles, called ions, as in traditional electronics, nanoionics moves the ions themselves.
"We've actually been able to move something the size of a virus between electrodes to switch them from a high resistance to a low resistance, which is great for memory," Michael Kozicki, director of CANi, told ASU Insight
Best of all, the new technique can be used on existing, conventional storage which means that the cost will not be prohibitive.
"In using readily available materials, we've provided a way for this memory to be made at essentially zero extra cost, because the materials you need are already used in the chips - all you have to do is mix them in a slightly different way," said Kozicki.
It might not be too long before we see products incorporating the new technology. Kozicki estimates that the first commercial product could be within 18 months. PMC has already attracted interest from several memory vendors, including Micron Technology. Samsung, Sony and IBM have also been interested in the technology.