Cassette Tapes Could Have a Future... In Outer Space

In the face of continuing wide distribution of the compact disc and rebounding sales of vinyl LPs, cassette tapes have yet to see a real resurgence. The medium caters to consumers with a sense of nostalgia, yet the sound quality is comparably low. This isn't news.

Cassette tapes are indeed cheap. That being said, considering their simplicity, they're also very green. Whether recording or being played, they only consume a small amount of energy . With that in mind, some researchers at IBM have claimed cassettes can be relevant and useful technology, and are improving them with the hopes of propelling cassettes into outer space.

IBM is collaborating with Fuji Film to develop a cassette tape with enough storage capacity to ensure its use as data storage for the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a radio telescope expected to produce among the highest-resolution space images to date. This telescope is expected to generate ten times the data traffic of the entire Internet.

That means a lot of power will be spent. Luckily, cassette tapes are energy- and cost-efficient. Researchers claim this makes them a considerable alternative to power-hungry hard drives.

The tape to store this data is coated with the chemical compound barium ferrite, which maximizes the amount of data that can be packed into the tape. This is far from your average quality cassette tape, though, and the data is expected to stay secure.

The biggest downside is the time it would take to locate and retrieve this data, as these tapes would otherwise still function like a classic cassette. Data would be found by searching along the tape, in essence fast-forwarding and rewinding.

However, information would be retrieved by robotic selectors, and not by scientists spending hours pushing buttons on some fantastical boombox. Furthermore, IBM claims that efficiently keeping secure copies is more important than instant access.

Their current cassette tape appears to be about the same size as a traditional one, yet holds about 35 terabytes of data -- about ten times the space available in today's largest hard drives, or the equivalent to a few MP3 players.

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