updated 10:45 am EDT, Mon April 27, 2009
GE holographic storage
General Electric on Monday announced it is working on a holographic storage medium that resembles a typical optical disc and allows it to store the equivalent of 100 DVDs, the NY Times reported this weekend. Holography, used for the three-dimensional images on some older credit cards for security, can also store binary data in the form of 1s and 0s. The next step involves GE making the technology usable in hardware that can be mass-produced at affordable prices.
Holographic storage has the potential to more densely pack data that traditional mediums, including DVDs and Blu-ray discs. The data is encoded in light patterns that are stored in light-sensitive material, with the holograms acting like microscopic mirrors that refract light patterns when a laser shines on them.
Making the technology affordable has not been a focus, until now. InPhase Technologies has plans to introduce a holographic storage system, though at $18,000 for the machines and expensive discs, it is relegated to specialized business and industry markets. GE has been developing a new, less complex hologram technology called microholographic storage since 2003.
The main challenge involves finding the materials and developing techniques that would allow smaller holograms to reflect enough light for their data patterns to be detected and retrieved. Most recently, the New York state-based GE team increased the reflective power of their holograms by a factor of 200, putting it on par with the range of current Blu-ray hardware.
"We’re in the ballpark," GE holographic program head Brian Lawrence says. "We’ve crossed the threshold so we’re readable."
GE scatters the holograms on the disc in a similar fashion as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, allowing microholographic readers to also read CD, DVD and Blu-ray. GE's holographic discs can hold 500GB of data, or 10 times more than a dual-layer Blu-ray disc, the highest capacity of current optical media, or more than 100 times what a DVD holds, at 4.7GB.
At first, GE will attempt to sell the holographic technology to commercial markets such as movie studios, television networks, medical researchers and hospitals, though adoption by the mass market is the company's ultimate goal. A release is planned in 2011 or 2012, with prices for the media hitting 10 cents per gigabyte, and dropping as time and economies of scales drop it. Still, this means a blank 500GB holographic disc would initially cost $50.
Head of GE's technology sales unit Bill Kernick said the company will need to partner with major electronics and optical storage producers to license its holographic storage technology and expertise, and it is already involved in talks with several unnamed companies.