Electronics

5D data storage technology offers 10,000 times the density of Blu-ray

5D data storage technology off...
Scientists have previously used 5D data storage tech to save a digital copy of the King James Bible
Scientists have previously used 5D data storage tech to save a digital copy of the King James Bible
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University of Southampton scientists have used their cutting-edge 5D data storage tech to save around 5 GB of information onto a one-inch silica glass sample
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University of Southampton scientists have used their cutting-edge 5D data storage tech to save around 5 GB of information onto a one-inch silica glass sample
Scientists have previously used 5D data storage tech to save a digital copy of the King James Bible
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Scientists have previously used 5D data storage tech to save a digital copy of the King James Bible

By deploying cutting-edge lasers and a little problem-solving, scientists at the University of Southampton have achieved a data storage breakthrough that offers both incredible density and long-term archiving capabilities. The technology is said to be capable of storing 500 terabytes on a single CD-sized disc, with the creators imagining it finding use in preserving everything from information for museums and libraries to data on a person's DNA.

The technology is what is known as five-dimensional (5)D optical storage and it is one the University of Southampton team has been pursuing for a while. It was first demonstrated back in 2013, with the scientists successfully using the format to record and retrieve a 300-kb text file, though they harbored much loftier ambitions than that.

The data is written using a femtosecond laser, which emits incredibly short but powerful pulses of light, forging tiny structures in glass that are measured on the nanoscale. These structures contain information on the intensity and polarization of the laser beam, in addition to their three spatial dimensions, which is why the scientists refer to it as 5D data storage.

In 2015, the team demonstrated their progress by using the technology to save digital copies of major documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the King James Bible and the Magna Carta. As opposed to typical hard-drive memory that is vulnerable to high temperatures, moisture, magnetic fields and mechanical failure, this "eternal" 5D data storage promised incredible thermal stability and a virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature.

One thing the scientists have been working to address, however, is the ability to write data at fast enough speeds and at high enough densities for real-world applications. They now claim to have achieved this by using an optical phenomenon called near-field enhancement, which enables them to create the nanostructures with a few weak light pulses rather than writing with the femtosecond laser directly. This allows data to be written at 1,000,000 voxels per second, which equates to 230 kb of data, or more than 100 pages of text, per second.

“This new approach improves the data writing speed to a practical level, so we can write tens of gigabytes of data in a reasonable time,” says Yuhao Lei from the University of Southampton in the UK. “The highly localized, precision nanostructures enable a higher data capacity because more voxels can be written in a unit volume. In addition, using pulsed light reduces the energy needed for writing.”

University of Southampton scientists have used their cutting-edge 5D data storage tech to save around 5 GB of information onto a one-inch silica glass sample
University of Southampton scientists have used their cutting-edge 5D data storage tech to save around 5 GB of information onto a one-inch silica glass sample

The team demonstrated this technique by writing 5 GB of text data onto a silica glass disc around the size of a CD with almost 100 percent readout accuracy, though the researchers say such a disc would be capable of holding 500 TB of data, making it 10,000 times denser than a Blu-ray disc. The researchers imagine the tech finding use in preserving information from someone's DNA, or for long-term data storage for national archives, museums and the like. But first, they'll need to develop faster methods of reading the data.

“Individuals and organizations are generating ever-larger datasets, creating the desperate need for more efficient forms of data storage with a high capacity, low energy consumption and long lifetime,” says Lei. “While cloud-based systems are designed more for temporary data, we believe that 5D data storage in glass could be useful for longer-term data storage for national archives, museums, libraries or private organizations.”

The research was published in the journal Optica.

Source: Optica via EurekAlert

16 comments
16 comments
Chris Coles
Many years ago it was Southampton University that first opened the door to the laser, so now this is the next step forward, archiving data that may be read by all future generations; wonderful! However I do note the use of the word "almost" . . . "The team demonstrated this technique by writing 5 GB of text data onto a silica glass disc around the size of a CD with almost 100 percent readout accuracy". Regardless, the sooner the better; we need this, ASAP.
paul314
I f the data is supposed to last for hundreds or thousands of years, perhaps it doesn't matter so much that each gigabyte takes about 10 hours to write. (As compared to a few seconds on a modern hard drive or SSD) Unless they get things way faster, a 500-TB disk would take about half a century...
Catweazle
Pointless writing data to such devices without certainty of the technology to recover it being available in the future.
robertswww
"500 terabytes on a single CD-sized disc" sounds like a storage format that many of us would like to hop-on-board with, as we can fit our entire library of existing files and numerous thumb drives, CD-Rs, HDDs, SDDs onto a single disc, with another disc for back-up. They are making progress, but "230 kb of data, or more than 100 pages of text, per second" is still way too slow for practical use. I hope they can continue to evolve this 5D storage technology, to make it available to the consumer market.
Edward Vix
I read long ago that glass is not a true solid but a liquid, and that it deforms under the pull of gravity over time. If that's true, the long-term storage ability will likely be compromised.
Kpar
"I guess I'm going to have to buy a new copy of the "White Album"..."
Expanded Viewpoint
If silica glass is not robust enough to be used as a recording medium, maybe Pyrex glass could be used instead? Can Aluminum oxide (sapphire) be written to, possibly with three intersecting beams?
Data access times must be very fast for the storage system to be of much use. Who wants to wait ten minutes for a single page of data to be be read and loaded?
noteugene
Storage capacity of this type needs to be installed into security camera systems. How many times have police officers tried to pull data off a convenience stores camera system just to find the data written over do you think? Sounds like all the kinks haven't been ironed out yet..
bwana4swahili
Really nice to be able to save all this data to small storage hardware BUT will we be able to read it at some distant point in the future? We recently opened a 50 year time capsule and couldn't find a hardware device to read the tapes stored. I suspect the same will happen with this.
TechGazer
Is there really a point in storing data for really long times? By the time you finish storing your data on this medium, it'll probably be surpassed by a newer technique. If there's a global nuclear war or other catastrophe, no one is going to have the capability to read the medium or care about tax records or rock star interviews or kitten videos. The information that really needs to be preserved can probably be handled with much lower storage density.

The internet might be producing many TB of data per second, but how much of that will actually be of value to society 500 years in the future?
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