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IntelliPaper Overview

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IntelliPaper Overview

Image courtesy of Lisa Johnston

Every once in a while, a device gets sent my way that really stands out in terms of originality. Take IntelliPaper: A few months ago, the company sent me a starter park for its paper USB drives. These drives are strips of paper (about the thickness of a business card) with embedded memory chips. Although the capacities are not massive (they range from about 8MB to 32MB, according to the website), the possibilities for data distribution are pretty vast.

IntelliPaper tried to seek funding on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, but it was unsuccessful in meeting its $300,000 goal and raised just $6, 480 instead. Despite this, the company says it still plans to release a modified version of its product.

When I tried out the IntelliPaper drives, I found them to be pretty fascinating, albeit a bit buggy. I had trouble getting the USB reader to register in my computer a few times, which a company spokesman tried to help me troubleshoot. Although the reader didn't yet have the capability to write data onto the drives, the company promises that this functionality is coming.

Although these paper drives might not appeal to the average consumer, I can see them gaining traction with businesses wishing to easily distribute information through the mail. How cool would it be for even the dullest mailer to come with a paper USB drive? The company is also developing a version that can be used as a greeting card.

Also exiting is the company's news that it's developing a Near Field Communication-enabled version. So smartphones with NFC technology (such as the Samsung Galaxy S III) will be able to wirelessly access the data from the drives.

One hindrance to the product's success may, unfortunately, be its pricing. While I can see them having success with companies distributing the paper USB drives at trade shows (just one of the ideas proposed by IntelliPaper on its website), I am less confident about consumers leaping to buy boxes of nine-count greeting cards for $50.

Despite not securing Indiegogo funding, IntelliPaper still seems extremely committed to its project. Perhaps anticipating consumers' doubts, it has a helpful FAQ on its website. First up (and, yes, one of my primary concerns): What happens when the drive gets wet? The company points out:

IntelliPaper USB drives are made to be disposable. They're produced to be used as long as the paper and USB contacts last. If by some chance you wash your drive, you're not out $10 or $25 or $40 as you would be if you ruined a standard USB drive. Just pull out another one and be more careful next time…

Fair enough. Unfortunately, IntelliPaper doesn’t really take capacity into account. Even if you could still buy a 32MB USB drive from your average retailer (which you can't -- that capacity is just too small), it would most certainly cost a lot less than $10. It’s difficult to find drives that are smaller than even 1GB these days, and a quick perusal on Amazon showed 512MB drives costing a buck -- and that’s still a lot more capacity than the 32MB that IntelliPaper is offering. And I hate to beat a dead horse, but there were 16GB drives for less than $5 on Amazon. Flash memory is just getting cheaper and cheaper -- and I do hope that this will mean good things for IntelliPaper as well.

Regardless of the kinks that still need to be worked out, IntelliPaper is certainly a heck of an idea, and one that I'd like to see succeed. Let's face it: Paper USB drives are something straight out of a James Bond movie.

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