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Who Invented the USB Flash Drive Part 1

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History lessons tend to give us straightforward answers when it comes to who invented what.  Thomas Edison gets credit for the light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone and the creation of cornflakes is thanks to John Harvey Kellogg.  However, when someone poses the question, who invented the USB flash drive, there is no one name that pops up.  What we don’t realize about most inventions—the flash drive included—is that it is actually credited to decades of building off one innovation after another.

As a result, Premium USB will highlight both direct and indirect players that made the USB flash drive what it is today.  In the first part of our article series dedicated to the topic, we will start with the basic building blocks of the device: flash memory and the USB connection.

Fujio Masuoka is a Japanese inventor who joined Toshiba in 1971.  Masuoka began working on a new storage memory concept while still a factory manager.  He was focused on developing memory that retained all of its information even without power (a term now known as non-volatile).

By 1981, Masuoka went to patent EEPROM (electronically erasable programmable read only memory), more commonly known as flash memory.  Masuoka introduced flash memory in 1984 to the industry at the International Electronics Developers meeting, where Intel took great interest.

The American chipmaker subsequently put hundreds of engineers into crafting and perfecting flash memory where Toshiba only allowed Masuoka five workers part-time for the same endeavor.  In 1987, he started creating NAND flash.  Tension between Toshiba and Masuoka began to develop over the years while Toshiba continued to focus on DRAM as their mainstay.

Intel took the helm of flash memory to capitalize on the chips where Toshiba had not.  Today, flash is a multibillion dollar industry, with chips present in everything from USB flash drives to computers, cars and phones.

Ajay Bhatt is a computer architect from Intel credited with developing the USB interface (Universal Series Bus) in 1994.  In the early 90’s, users had to contend with countless plugs and connections for devices like parallel and serial ports, expansion cards and more.  Bhatt and his team figured there was an easier way to go about using your peripherals—just in the way there’s one type of electrical outlet.

USB 1.0 and 1.1 were then developed to handle data transfers of 12Mbps per second, with 1.1 adding low speed operation for less bandwidth hungry peripherals.  USB 2.0 came along in 2000 at 480 megabits per second and now USB 3.0 offers file transfer rates at 4.8Gbps per second.   Today across the world, USB reigns as the most popular interface to connect our flash drives, hard drives, printers, cameras, consoles, keyboards and more to our operating systems.

While both of these technological pioneers did not directly mold the first flash drive prototype, their impact is evident.  Flash memory is the most essential component to the body of the storage device.  The NAND chip stores files while utilizing read and write functions.  Without USB, you would lack the proper connection to your system.  If proprietary connections other than USB were used, flash drives would suffer incompatibilities from one computer to the next.

Stay tuned to the Premium USB Blog for the next installment of our flash drive invention series to see what other tech geniuses were vital in bringing the flash drive to life!

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