2014 technologies: the Eighties revival

Technology 2013-12-05

Glancing through technology predictions for next year brings on flashbacks from the 1980s. Who knew that magnetic tape would hold the answers to today’s major data storage issues, or that big chunky digital watches would be returning to our wrists? As if that weren’t enough, flying cars are finally here…


This week’s Economist reports that magnetic tape, which was first used to store computer data in 1951, is experiencing a sudden revival! Sales are expected to rise by three per cent this year. Through interviews with Alberto Pace at CERN and Evangelos Eleftheriou at UBM, the report identifies five key advantages of using tape compared with hard disks for long-term data storage. The advantages include speed, reliability, preservation, security and cost.

Once loaded (which admittedly can take time), the speed at which data can be read from a tape is about four times faster than reading from a hard disk. If a tape snaps, data are only lost from around the damaged region, and the tape can be spliced back together. When a hard disk fails, all the data on it may be lost, which is likely to mean terabytes of data, compared with a few hundred megabytes that would typically be lost from a snapped tape. Interestingly, another advantage of tapes comes from their old-fashioned material. They don’t need power in order to preserve the data, so tapes aren’t susceptible to the increased failure rates that are caused by continually switching computer hard disks on and off. Tapes are also far more cumbersome for hackers that might wish to access and delete data: tapes would require years, as opposed to minutes, to erase. Finally, tape storage is cheaper and far more long-lasting than disks: apparently, tapes can still be read reliably after 30 years, while a hard disk typically lasts just five years. IBM and Fujifilm are now embarking on developing tapes with greater storage capacity, aiming to fit 100 gigabits of data per square inch – which would allow a single cartridge to store more than 100 terabytes of data! Let’s just hope that tape doesn’t get jammed in the player too often.


Something that has been talked about for quite a while now is the smartwatch, the much-anticipated ‘next big thing’, originally launched by Pebble. More recently, Samsung and Sony have joined the market with their smartwatches, but consumers still seem baffled about what the smartwatch is actually meant to be, and whether it’s worth the money. Is it a phone on your wrist (Inspector Gadget, anyone)? Is it a really clever watch that tells you how to live your life? Or is it just another way for apps to send alerts and remind you to keep interacting with them? It seems that people might be waiting for Apple to launch the rumoured iWatch, and then we’ll know for sure that we all just have to have one.


Elsewhere, we hear that flying cars are now available to order! Yes, really.Terrafugia has been developing its Transition, a two-seater fixed-wing “street legal airplane” for several years and, last year, it successfully debuted in a live public demo flight. This flying car is small enough to fit in a standard, single-car garage, and can be driven safely on roads and also flown into airports. The major drawback seems to be that it’s only available for pilots. Maybe Dyson has a flying hoover under development instead…


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