flashkus-backThe Art. Lebedev Studio, the same folks behind the hyper-expensive Optimus Maximus keyboard (in which every key is a miniature, reconfigurable LCD screen), have come up with a design concept for a disposable paper USB flash drive. It’s just a design concept, and I’m not sure whether it’s even technologically feasible yet (the design’s use of the future tense, “Soon the flash drive will evolve into a disposable form…”, makes me suspect not).  But it’s a very interesting idea.

Essentially, the drives come in a perforated sheet of several, and when you want to use one you just tear it off and stick it in the computer. I’m not sure how well they’ll stay in place given that they don’t have the complete USB plug, just the wafer that makes contact with the one inside the device, but perhaps it doesn’t have to stay a perfect fit.

Needless to say, a disposable USB flash drive could make it a lot easier and a lot cheaper—and yes, even a lot better for the environment—to give away digital media in a physical form. How much plastic could be saved if every bound-in CD-ROM in a Baen e-book was replaced by a paper USB drive? (For that matter, how much plastic could be saved if every time a friend burned files to a CD or DVD for another friend, he used one of these instead?) And of course a number of recording artists and others have experimented with selling or giving away content on flash drives, but the problem is even cheap flash drives are still too costly for widespread distribution of freebies.

If these paper flash drives could be manufactured cheaply enough to be used as tzotzkes, people could hand out collections of their work on business cards, or hand out full multimedia presentations instead of brochures. (And, of course, they could be repurposed by the recipient after viewing the information contained therein—the return of the AOL floppy disk!) It would also make Linux and other open-source distros like Sugar on a Stick or Joli OS easier to hand out: instead of putting a CD in a mailer, just drop one of these in a regular envelope.

(One of the commenters on the blog post where I originally found out about this suggests that this sort of thing is in use already—and I do know that regular, costly thumb drives are already being handed out as tzotzkes by some companies—but this would bring it more in reach of the masses who can’t afford to pour that much money into a giveaway.)

I know I’d certainly jump on the bandwagon if someone actually brought these to market. I’ve bought and lost several “cheap” thumb drives, through holes in my pocket or other misplacements. It would be nice to have access to physical file transfer ability without being out twenty bucks every time I lose one.


  1. There is a growing business in mass-produced company-branded USB keys now… this would simply be a cheaper version of those. I question, however, how much we need such a product as “disposable” memory: It’s more junk for landfills; and it risks being recovered from trash and used by someone else, so no one will want sensitive material on them.

    Regarding tying digital media to a single key… that’s taking a huge step backward in the application of digital media. It will not make the digital documents any more secure from copying, etc. And for content you intend to keep, devising some kind of lasting storage for a bunch of flimsy paper keys seems doomed to failure.

    Instead of “disposable” items, we should be perfecting lasting memory items, something we’ll carry with us always, and which will carry all of our valuable data… let’s face it, memory has shrunk enough to allow us to put our most important data within a piece of jewelry, or within a tiny chip embedded under our skin.

    “Disposable” is so 20th century. It’s time to give up on that particular institution, isn’t it?

  2. @Chris: Neither.

    And my point is, we don’t need either… so why do it? There’s really no sense to it, especially when we have wireless systems and “the cloud” that can push files at us without a physical container.

    These guys have simply come up with an idea that’s about 40 years behind the times. Sorry, but I hope it dies quickly and quietly.

  3. This is a cool concept. And, if you can burn it, then the information on the usb drive can be eradicated. If you throw them in the recycle, how do you know that the information is not going to be stolen?
    For USB drives to be useful as tzotzkes they would have to come in around a dollar or less in cost. If they are for ebooks, they don’t have to hold too much.

  4. Chris, don’t worry about trying to convince “the cloud” people or the enviros. There will always be a need for physical containers. This is much better than burning cheap cds that will only be used once. A re-usable & disposable usb drive at a cheap cost would sell. No doubt about it. If you’re worried about security then just don’t. How hard is that? If you do use it for sensitive info and you get burned then you’re just silly and probably deserved it. Now go cry somewhere else, I don’t want to hear it. 😉

  5. You wouldn’t use these for sensitive data. These would be great for putting digital content you’d like to distribute into a magazine, attached to a cereal box or some other product. I see this as a great marketing piece for mass distribution, or better yet – they could be attached to textbooks or training manuals with supplemental material (video, 3D models, etc.). Or how about instead of those big freshman orientation books they hand out in college, they give the kids one of these. Or insurance companies can put your policy info on one of these and send it out instead of that big heavy, costly stack of mostly useless paper they ship out to thousands of people a day.

    The paper body is very compact, not a lot goes into its manufacture or recycling. I imagine they’d be really cost effective. Shipping and distribution would be insanely cheap.

    I think these are a great idea and I would love to be able to offer this product to my customers.

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