Insights from BCC Research

Eternal 5D Data Storage Could Record the History of Humankind

Posted by Clayton Luz on Apr 28, 2016 6:00:00 AM

Today’s growing digitalized world is generating huge volumes of data, not just on the Internet, but overall computerized systems across economies and processes are generating data that need to be stored and protected. According to vcloud news, 90% of the world’s data have been created in the past two years alone.  That’s 10 million Blu-ray discs, equal in height to four Eiffel Towers.

Or, instead of stacking all those information-packed platters sky high, you could store their total information on coin-sized discs. It’s your call.
Well, not really. For the technology that promises such incredible storage is not yet commercialized. But it’s getting there. Researchers in the UK have created a data disc that can store 360 terabytes of data. (One terabyte of data would require about 1,400 CD-ROMs, 220 DVDs, or 40 single-layer Blu-ray discs.) What’s more, the disc is virtually indestructible, with a thermal stability up to 1,000°C and has a virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature (13.8 billion years at 190°C). That’s the age of the universe, folks, plus or minus a few birthdays.
The technology was first experimentally demonstrated in 2013 when a 300 kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in five dimensions (5D), which refers to the 3D positioning of the nanostructures as well as their size and orientation.
Now, major documents from human history such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Newton’s Opticks, Magna Carta and King James Bible, have been saved as digital copies that could survive the human race.
The creation ushers in a new chapter of eternal data archiving. The technology could be highly useful for organizations with big archives, such as national archives, museums and libraries, to preserve their information and records.
The researchers have named their storage medium the “Superman memory crystal,” after the memory crystals in the Superman films.
“Optical storage devices (OSD) are a key means toward data storage and data backup, along with data warehousing and e–mail archives,” says BCC Research analyst Sinha G. “Other storage devices, CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs (BD), also utilize this technology. It’s one of the oldest technologies but remains one of the safest ways of storing data; by keeping it offline and, hence, more secure. The markets for CDs, DVDs and BDs are getting more robust and rugged, creating a renewed demand for OSD.”
CD Rom. The CD–ROM is the oldest OSD technology currently in use. Though launched in the late 1980s, CDs are still one of the preferred OSDs as they are convenient for small–sized data, and are the preferred storage for software. A CD consists of three layers. On the bottom there is a normally transparent plastic substrate and over that there is a reflective metal layer, which stores the data. The top layer is the protective coating. Digitalized data in binary form is burnt on the surface of the CD. This information is recorded on the metal layer.
Laser beams are used to read the data. When the beam travels from the direction of the base and reaches the corrugated surface of the CD, the metal layer reflects the beam like a mirror, which is the key factor behind reading the digitized information stored in a CD. Storage is the primary growth segment for CD ROMs. Personal usage for storage of data, however, will see a fall as corruption of CDs will still be an issue, and the market will shift towards other forms of OSDs.
DVD. Digital versatile discs were launched in 1995, mainly for use as video storage devices, and as the number of pixels increased in video devices, larger disc space was needed. The manufacturing methods and materials are the same as that of a CD. Storage capacity for a DVD is typically 4.7 GB, although through double layered recording this can increase to 8.4 GB of storage. Personal usage, entertainment gaming, and software are the key applications for this segment, but security system data is a new application that shows growth potential during the forecast period.
Blu-Ray Discs (BD).  BDs are the future of OSDs. With larger amounts of storage space, BDs are being utilized in industrial applications. The storage space is expected to increase by up to six layers within the forecast period, allowing larger amounts of data to be stored. The key areas in which they are being used are security and surveillance. BDs are complementing hard disc–based digital video recorders (DVRs) for storage of video footage. The fact that it is offline storage makes it more secure from online intrusion and, hence, makes it more secure than network video recorders (NVRs).
Erasable And Rewritable Optical Discs. All optical discs of any form that are used for the purpose of reuse and re–record are analyzed in this section. These are random access memory (RAM) discs, which are used for multiple purposes. Security systems will continue using RAMs for surveillance footage purposes and will be the largest market in 2019.
Near-field optical device. Near–field optical devices are the next generation of OSDs. The surface area is increased by reducing the optical field of recording. 100 GB storage space can easily be reached on these drives. These devices are expected to be commercialized by 2016; however due to sheer size of the storage space and price of the devices, it is expected to find use in industrial applications and software markets.
Holographic storage discs. The three–dimensional (3D) concept of data recording in holographic storage discs is the key differentiating factor between this technology and that of CD or DVD recordings. Conventional OSDs use a singular laser beam to write two–dimensional data along a continuous spiral data path. Holographic storage discs can save up to 1 million pixels while recording. Currently, holographic discs can store more than 4 million individual pages on a disc.
Sinha anticipates the global market for OSD, which totaled $1 billion in 2014, to reach $1.7 billion by 2019, along with a five-year compound annual growth (CAGR) of 9.5%.
To create the 5D data disc, researchers from the University of Southampton used a process called femtosecond laser writing, which creates small discs of glass using an ultrafast laser that generates short and intense pulses of light. These pulses can write data in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by 5 micrometers (that's 0.005 mm).
The self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, modifying polarization of light that can then be read by combination of optical microscope and a polarizer, similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses.
According to Sinha, ultrafast lasers, also known as ultrashort pulse lasers, emit electromagnetic pulses having time duration in the order of picoseconds and femtoseconds. “These lasers, which are classified on the basis of their capacity and usage to generate high-speed pulses within the same phase, are based on the concept of continuous-wave mode-locking,” he explains.
“A short pulse is formed by the combination of ultrashort pulse and number of axial laser modes. Normal lasers when compared to ultrafast lasers operate in only one mode. They can function according to the estimated time and targeted distance over a broad spectrum compared with traditional lasers.”
Factors that support the growth of ultrafast lasers include their unmatchable high range intensity due to their low divergence angles. Energy loss in the overall path covered is also minimal, and the lasers attain a high level of energy. At present, there are no substitutions for present ultrafast lasers, and this is expected to be the case for the near future.
According to Sinha, the global market for ultrafast lasers reached $1.2 billion and nearly $2 billion in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This market is expected to reach nearly $5.5 billion in 2019, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.7% for the period 2014-2019.

Topics: Photonics