Storing data for a significant stretch of time is a trickier task than it might seem. Paper and film can last a few generations if they’re carefully preserved, but even under the best conditions they tend to fade after while. Digital media (CDs, flash drives, and external hard drives) have a 30-year life span at best — assuming they aren’t scratched, corrupted, demagnetized, or rendered obsolete by newer systems before then. And the cloud? That’ll only last for as long as we can keep our current Internet infrastructure intact, and that’s completely out of your hands.
What if you want to store something for a thousand, one hundred thousand, or even a million years? How would you preserve information for that long? The answer, according to French entrepreneurs Alain Rey & Farid Benzakour, is to etch your data into sapphire with a high-powered laser. Using this technique, the duo have created a unique analog storage device dubbed the “nanoform”
Nanoforms are essentially a high-tech cross between stone tablets and microfilm slides. Instead of chiseling crude symbols into a hunk of rock, Rey and Benzakour use a sophisticated laser etching process to scrawl information into a disk of lab-grown sapphire — the second hardest material known to man. Using this method, they’re able to etch out shapes in incredibly fine detail — so small that they need to be magnified (like microfilm) in order to be read.
To give you an example of just how small they can go, Rey and Benzakour printed the book War and Peace –in its entirety– on a 4-inch demo disk, and the whole thing took up less than a quarter of the disk’s area. On top of that, the technique isn’t limited to just text. The laser can etch out practically any shape you want, so pictures aren’t out of question either — so long as they’re black and white.
The beauty of this approach is that, in addition to resisting water, fire, acid, and corrosion, the disks are completely analog. You don’t need a computer to read them, the information can’t be hacked, and the etched images can be viewed with just about any kind of magnification device — a camera with a macro lens, a microscope, a pair of binoculars, or even just a big magnifying glass.
Rey and Benzakour have recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise money for production. For a pledge of about $150, they’ll send you a 1-inch nanoform engraved with whatever the heck you want. If all goes according to plan, they expect to begin shipping sometime around November.