Techworld, relying on a article in Arab News, is reporting on an apparent breakthrough in printed data storage, Rainbow Technology, invented by a 24 year old student in India, Sainul Abideen. According to Arab News the Rainbow Versatile Disk

. . . can store 90 to 450 GB. . . .instead of using zeroes and ones . . use[s] geometric shapes such as circles, squares and triangles for computing which combine with various colors and preserve the data in images. An RVD therefore looks like a printout of modern art. . . . [a] paper or plastic-made RVD will cost just about [$0.04] and has 131 times more storage capacity.

Boy, I wish this was for real
Rainbow technology would be really cool, if it was real. That is a considered opinion, looking at the problem in a couple of ways.

First, Mr. Abideen suggests printing the code in magazines. Modern offset presses used to print magazines operate at about 300 dpi, or about 8.7 million dots on an A4 sheet, or 35 million dots with four color printing. There is no lossless way to compress 256 GB (or 2 trillion bits) of data into 35 million dots, or even 35 billion dots. It is the storage equivalent of perpetual motion.

Second, as Mr. Chris Mellor at Techworld points out in his blog, Xerox PARC has already done a fair bit of research into the idea of using printed glyphs for digital data. One idea, using glyphs to replace dots in half-tone photographs, allows digital data to be transmitted with an image. David L. Hecht, in his excellent paper Printed Embedded Data Graphical User Interfaces calculates his glyph information capacity this way:

The example code in Figure 1 provides m= 1 raw bit per glyph and, with five-by- five pixel glyph cells at 300 dpi, contains 3,600 raw bits per square inch. The synchronization frame uses one of each 15 row and column patterns, leaving about 400 bytes per square inch for data and error correction. Naturally, smaller-scale printing increases glyph code data density. Glyph codes generally have data density comparable to high-performance two- dimensional barcodes at similar printing and scanning resolutions.

3.6kb is far short of 1GB. I’m afraid Mr. Abideen has misplaced a few decimal points in his calculations.

A pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow
Regretfully, I must reject Mr. Abideen’s claims. I’d love to see much cheaper storage chugging out of my laser printer. It just won’t be Rainbow Technology.

Comments welcome, of course, especially those dissenting or enlarging. All storageheads should look at the Hecht paper, there are some pretty cool ideas in it.

Update Chris Mellor does a fine job deconstructing these claims from several perspectives in this article. Now I really hope the guy is right, but there is no way.