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The WhisperCup


Ok. Yesterday I told you what the problem was. Today I’ll show you what I think will solve it. I looked around online and didn’t see anything like this, not that that proves or disproves anything. If the idea wasn’t out there before, well, it’s out there now.

I call it the WhisperCup. It consists of a specially equipped USB thumb drive, and a cylindrical well that matches the thumb drive’s special equipment. The cup provides power to the thumb drive via induction. At the rounded end of the thumb drive is a wireless connection of some sort. I don’t know precisely what; such things may exist already, and if so, all the better. I call it “ultra-short range” because all it needs to do is link data into the thumb drive from the bottom of the cup. Its range could be as little as a half an inch. Certainly it should quit before the wireless end of the thumb drive clears the top of the cup. It doesn’t have to shout microwaves; hence the name WhisperCup.

The drive itself adheres to the Universal Flash Storage standard, which incorporates an interface that might as well be SATA-on-a-chip. I’ve never much likes USB as a storage interface. UFS is faster and supposedly more reliable. Adding USB to the tang end isn’t difficult; all this stuff is jelly-bean logic now. Toss it in the cup and the volume mounts. If you don’t have a cup to toss the drive in, plug it into a USB port.

The proper place for the cup is built into the top panel of a tower case. If you don’t have such a case, there’s nothing wrong with an external WhisperDock with eSATA and a wall wart. (eSATA doesn’t provide power to its devices–big mistake, but we have to live with it.) I have a Thermaltake VB9 BlacX, and there are two toaster-dock style SATA slots in the top panel. Damned handy, though I mainly use them to do my monthly offsite backups onto naked drives. I’d gladly trade one slot for a pair of WhisperCups.

The thumb drive has no internal power source. If it’s in the cup, it gets power from the cup. If it’s in a USB port, it gets power from the USB port. I don’t want the damned thing whispering while it’s in my pocket. I want to emphasize that this isn’t anything like AirStash, which is a portable wireless Web server for file sharing. That certainly has its uses, but it’s not what I’m talking about.

That’s the basics. If you’re nervous about just dropping the thumb drive into a cup, you could line the cup with plastic bristles, which would both center the thumb drive and keep it in the cup until a firm tug yanks it out.

That would do it. No plugging into a fragile port. Put the drive in the cup, and you’re ready to go. If you take the drive somewhere that doesn’t have a cup, well, the wear is on their USB port, not yours.

What’s not to like?


  1. Bob Fegert says:

    I like the idea.
    Physical connections are getting long in the tooth to my way of thinking.

    Wireless and optical is the future….I believe optical will soon be used for data inside processors and for data across circuit boards.

    There is just so far you can go with current tech. How many more BGA connections can you place on a SoC? How many more board layers can you sandwich together?

    Time for new thinking, time to simplify the mess.

  2. It all looks like a good idea, but I’m not clear what the physical cup is needed for. Could you not just stick the device to the side of your computer over a flat interface that works the same way? A flexible fridge-style magnet with no center around all the interface stuff would simplify your electromagnetic interference picture as well. Hell, even Star Trek never imagined just sticking the storage to the side of the machine… đŸ™‚

    1. I did think of that, but I’m still leery of having magnets around any machine with a magnetic disk in it. That said, magnetic disks are no longer de rigeur and in eight or ten years may be considered downright quaint.

  3. One might also imagine raising the voltages of the IO RF a trifle and then splitting the signal and rectifying to power the device, the way RFIDs work.


    1. Hmmm. Certainly possible, but bandwidth and storage both costs current, and there may not be enough current coming through the wireless link to provide both. However, I wouldn’t bet that the engineering community couldn’t do it.

  4. Last comment, I promise. One could also, since most modern data devices are serial anyway, use a 3 prong tip-ring-sleeve plug. Pretty sure they were engineered for thousands and thousands of connections, at least in the quarter-inch flavor, as once upon a time, with two-wire tip-sleeve connectors, your telephone operator connected your call with such things.


    1. The problem here may be the RF characteristics of that sort of plug might not allow high enough bandwidth to do justice to the SATA interface. I had a little trouble like that about twenty years ago, when I tried to connect a precision trimpot to a VCO via 1/4″ phone plug and had a huge amount of trouble making it work.

  5. Jeff,

    I do have two eSATA ports that supply power and one that can receive it. I do need to find the right cable to connect the two however. There are one each on my desktop (back/I/O panel) and my laptop (left side) that provide power, and a 2.5″ external HDD case that can receive it. So they do exist.


  6. TRX says:

    If there’s going to be a new connector, I’d prefer something optical,. or at the very least, an RCA-style prong.

    Most of the computers I have, half of the USB ports are turned one way, half are the other way. And though one side of a cable has the “USB” icon molded in, it doesn’t seem to indicate “this side up”, and I’ve never seen a thumbdrive or other device with a “this side up.”

    Some connectors and devices are loose enough that I’ve been able to insert them either way; some the “right way” are so tight they take a lot of force.

    Statistically, I should be able to insert a plug in the correct orientation 50% of the time. But as is widely known, a 50/50 chance means you’ll be wrong 75% of the time…

  7. Jack Smith says:

    Optical cables for USB 3 are available at 5 Gb/s (based on a quick Google search) so the data link could be optical instead of radio. Or probably cheaper would be an RF signal capacitive coupled to/from the storage device.


  8. Jason Kaczor says:

    Howdy Jeff…

    Long time no talk… So, this is a very nice idea… The kind that Kickstarter was invented for…

    (Had a nice, brand new Lenovo Thinkpad, with 2 perfect USB3 ports – accidentally plugged an older dongle into it, and I had to basically destroy that dongle, and eventually the USB port to get it out… what a waste)

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