Rice University researcher: "It's this insatiable desire for (smartphone) memory that's driving all this."

Story highlights

With advances in design and construction, devices may be about to expand in a big way

Researchers have developed a breakthrough in resistive random-access memory technology

It could allow us to store vast amounts of data -- videos, movies, games -- on our phones

CNN  — 

A big selling point of smartphones is their ability to hold much of your data – photos, videos, your entire music library – on a little device.

But over the years, their storage capabilities, usually no more than 64 GB, haven’t kept pace with all the movies, games, apps and other memory-hogging minutiae of modern digital life.

Many people keep stuff in the cloud, but that requires Wi-Fi access.

It’s frustrating to have to delete music or videos every time you want to store something new on your phone. But thanks to some advances in memory design and construction, we may be about to expand our devices in a big way.

At Rice University, a team led by chemist James Tour has developed a breakthrough in RRAM (resistive random-access memory) technology. Their RRAM uses silicon oxide, one of the most studied and abundant substances on Earth, the stuff of sand and glass.

“Because it’s this amazing material, the industry understands it,” Tour said, noting that the key to the scalability of the design is industrial availability. Indeed, Rice’s RRAM can be manufactured at room temperature and relatively lower voltages compared with other versions.

RRAM is the next step for an industry that’s finding the limits to flash memory. Like flash, RRAM doesn’t need continuous power. But it’s also much faster, since it can be built into more versatile arrays and stacked into bigger pieces.

“You’ve got to get into the third dimension to pack up enough density in the memory” in order to keep the capabilities growing, Tour said. Flash memory has kept up with Moore’s Law – the ever-increasing power of microchips – by giving more functionality to the devices on the chips, he says.