This Chip Can Make Almost Anything Talk

Computers throb to a digital beat. People, though, live in an analog world: The sights and sounds we sense are continuous signals, not discrete pulses. Computers can process images or sounds, but first these wavelike signals must be digitized. That takes extra circuits, and lots more storage space.

Enter Information Storage Devices Inc., a four-year-old startup in San Jose, Calif. ISD has just unveiled the first memory chip that stores analog data. That eliminates the extra electronics to convert it into digital form: Hook up a battery, microphone, and speaker directly to a chip and you have an ultraminiature sound recorder. Each $20 chip now holds 20 seconds of sound--and will preserve it for 10 years or let you re-record it more than 100,000 times. A version that stores up to a minute of sound will be out later this year, and prices will drop rapidly, the company says. Since the chips can be easily and cheaply added to common electronic products, ISD predicts a proliferation of talking or recording devices, from cellular phones that record messages to talking toys.

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