May 22, 2022

Report: Using Metal Tape to Store/Preserve Digital Data For the Future

From New Scientist:

Group 47 in Woodland Hills, California, is working on ways to get around the fact that our drives and discs have a limited lifespan. Instead of writing 1s and 0s as magnetic signals, they write them as microscopic dots onto metal tape, using a laser in a system called DOTS. The tape is then stored in cartridges. A high resolution digital camera can read the data back, but all a future human would need to retrieve the image is knowledge of binary code and a microscope. The firm says the tape should last hundreds of years without degrading and, crucially, doesn’t need any special climate-controlled storage.

The company received funding from a US intelligence agency last year to develop a prototype, and is now raising funds to build a commercial version. The medium is designed to guide someone with no knowledge of hard drives or computers to read its data – all 1.2 terabytes of it. “It’s just like the disc on the side of the Voyager spacecraft,” says Rob Hummel, Group 47’s president.


But for David Rosenthal, who studies data storage at Stanford University in California, this kind of long-lasting medium is missing the point. He believes that we now live in an age where, if data isn’t online, it may as well not exist. DOTS isn’t designed to be searchable and easy to access, and for Rosenthal, that’s a problem.

Rosenthal is working on a way to preserve society’s data by networking many copies of it together. When one copy goes down, due to disc failure, human error or sabotage, the network can replenish that copy from another location.


About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.