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October 14, 2021

The Next Breakthrough in Long-Term Data Storage is….Gold?

In the hunt for the optimal long-term storage, media comes and media goes. From cave paintings and daguerreotypes to tape and optical disk, humans continue to search for new ways to preserve information for use by subsequent generations. Now an Upstate New York company is touting a new type of archive that leverages an element with the ultimate in longevity: gold.

Totenpass today announced the launch of its novel storage solution that’s made of gold. Data is written directly to the surface of the gold cartridge (which features some nickel) using a laser etching process. The data takes the form of shrunken down human-readable images or documents, or machine-readable data that can be encrypted and read with a smartphone app (which is still in development).

The company, which is operating out of Kodak’s old headquarters in Rochester, is selling two drives: a medium storage drive that’s 54mm x 85mm, and has 1 GB of effective capacity for $50, and a large drive that’s 71mm by 143mm (about the size of an iPhone) and has 2 GB of effective capacity for $75. Approximately one-third of the cost accounts for the value of the gold used in the drive, the company says.

Clearly, this isn’t a solution for storing big data. One a price-per-GB basis, the company’s solutions are not even close to being economically feasible for large amounts of data. Instead, the company’s primary target are individuals who want a permanent way to store important documents, such as family photos or intellectual property. Because the images or the documents are permanently etched onto the gold, the information should be readable for hundreds of years, if not longer.

This isn’t the first time that the element that occupies number 79 on the Periodic Table has been employed as a long-term archive. The hieroglyphics that ancient Egyptians embedded onto gold tablets are just as readable today as they were when they were created thousands of years ago. When NASA launched Voyager 1 in 1979, it chose a gold record to house a summary of human knowledge, just in case the spacecraft encountered intelligent life (we’re still waiting on that one).

Totenpass uses a laser to permanently etch photos or documents onto a gold drive

Totenpass CEO Roy Sebag writes: “What we find is that the same qualities which make gold so special in nature, which have led towards its ascent as premier money, premier artistic media, and premier jewelry, also make gold the premier method to store data–digital or otherwise–when permanency and energy efficiency through time are the primary objectives.”

Sebag has been developing the Totenpass data storage technology with his partner, Bruce Ha, for the past four years. The company is launching its offering today in beta form. It is still building its proprietary data reading technology, but it promises that will be available in the near future.

With Totenpass, which is a German word that roughly translates to “passport of the dead,” Sebag is offering an alternative to storing important documents on Internet properties like Facebook or Google Drive. Clearly, Sebag takes a stark view on the ephemeral nature of today’s information technology, including the ever-present threat of bit rot.

“Although this paradigm has proved to be increasingly practical and convenient, we have sacrificed something of our autonomy and control over our precious information,” Sebag writes. “You can now exit the Internet paradigm by storing your most precious information offline on indestructible gold, which you can hold in your hand, rather than on decaying hard drives or on third-party servers.”

Ha, the CEO of Stamper Technology, similarly, sees gold as the closest thing to a permanent archive that is available to humans at this time.

“Information and knowledge will be stored and preserved in pristine condition in gold for tens of thousands of years, currently the longest archival medium known to man,” Ha states. “Family heritage and cultural legacy will no longer be lost to arcane digital storage systems or paper, CDs, and other hardware devices that can disintegrate and be permanently lost in time.”

You can check out the Totenpass offerings at its website: