The technology is holography.
But optical storage experts and industry analysts who were told of the development said it held the promise of being a big step forward in digital storage with a wide range of potential uses in commercial, scientific and consumer markets.If they can make them cheaply, it will be a big jump forward and make things like Complete Series DVD sets a lot cheaper and easier to store.
“This could be the next generation of low-cost storage,” said Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering, a technology research firm.
The promising work by the G.E. researchers is in the field of holographic storage. Holography is an optical process that stores not only three-dimensional images like the ones placed on many credit cards for security purposes, but the 1’s and 0’s of digital data as well.
The data is encoded in light patterns that are stored in light-sensitive material. The holograms act like microscopic mirrors that refract light patterns when a laser shines on them, and so each hologram’s recorded data can then be retrieved and deciphered.
Holographic storage has the potential to pack data far more densely than conventional optical technology, used in DVDs and the newer, high-capacity Blu-ray discs, in which information is stored as a pattern of laser-etched marks across the surface of a disc. The potential of holographic technology has long been known. The first research papers were published in the early 1960s.
Many advances have been made over the years in the materials science, optics and applied physics needed to make holographic storage a practical, cost-effective technology. And this year, InPhase Technologies, a spinoff of Bell Labs of Alcatel-Lucent, plans to introduce a holographic storage system, using $18,000 machines and expensive discs, for specialized markets like video production and storing medical images.