Using innovative nanotechnology, IBM scientists have demonstrated a data storage density of a trillion bits per square inch -- 20 times higher than the densest magnetic storage available today. IBM achieved this remarkable density -- enough to store 25 million printed textbook pages on a surface the size of a postage stamp -- in a research project code-named "Millipede".
Rather than using traditional magnetic or electronic means to store data, Millipede uses thousands of nano-sharp tips to punch indentations representing individual bits into a thin plastic film. The result is akin to a nanotech version of the venerable data processing 'punch card' developed more than 110 years ago, but with two crucial differences: the 'Millipede' technology is re-writeable (meaning it can be used over and over again), and may be able to store more than 3 billion bits of data in the space occupied by just one hole in a standard punch card.
Although this unique approach is smaller than today's traditional technologies and can be operated at lower power, IBM scientists believe still higher levels of storage density are possible. "Since a nanometer-scale tip can address individual atoms, further improvements far beyond even this fantastic terabit milestone can be achieved. While current storage technologies may be approaching their fundamental limits, this nanomechanical approach is potentially valid for a thousand-fold increase in data storage density.
The terabit demonstration employed a single "nano-tip" making indentations only 10 nanometers (millionth of a millimeter) in diameter -- each mark being 50,000 times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. While the concept has been proven with an experimental setup using more than 1,000 tips, the research team is now building a prototype, due to be completed early next year, which deploys more than 4,000 tips working simultaneously over a 7 mm-square field. Such dimensions would enable a complete high-capacity data storage system to be packed into the smallest format used now for flash memory.

While flash memory is not expected to surpass 1-2 gigabytes of capacity in the near term, Millipede technology could pack 10 - 15 gigabytes of data into the same tiny format, without requiring more power for device operation.
The Millipede project could bring tremendous data capacity to mobile devices such as personal digital assistants, cellular phones, and multifunctional watches. In addition, we are also exploring the use of this concept in a variety of other applications, such as large-area microscopic imaging, nanoscale lithography or atomic and molecular manipulation.