The 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.