How Holographic Memory Will Work

Desktop Holographic Data Storage

After more than 30 years of research and development, a desktop holographic storage system (HDSS) is close at hand. Early holographic data storage devices will have capacities of 125 GB and transfer rates of about 40 MB per second. Eventually, these devices could have storage capacities of 1 TB and data rates of more than 1 GB per second -- fast enough to transfer an entire DVD movie in 30 seconds. So why has it taken so long to develop an HDSS, and what is there left to do?

When the idea of an HDSS was first proposed, the components for constructing such a device were much larger and more expensive. For example, a laser for such a system in the 1960s would have been 6 feet long. Now, with the development of consumer electronics, a laser similar to those used in CD players could be used for the HDSS. LCDs weren't even developed until 1968, and the first ones were very expensive. Today, LCDs are much cheaper and more complex than those developed 30 years ago. Additionally, a CCD sensor wasn't available until the last decade. Almost the entire HDSS device can now be made from off-the-shelf components, which means that it could be mass-produced.

Although HDSS components are easier to come by today than they were in the 1960s, there are still some technical problems that need to be worked out. For example, if too many pages are stored in one crystal, the strength of each hologram is diminished. If there are too many holograms stored on a crystal, and the reference laser used to retrieve a hologram is not shined at the precise angle, a hologram will pick up a lot of background from the other holograms stored around it. It is also a challenge to align all of these components in a low-cost system.

Researchers are confident that technologies will be developed in the next two or three years to meet these challenges. With such technologies on the market, you will be able to purchase the first holographic memory players by the time "Star Wars: Episode II" is released on home 3-D discs. This DVD-like disc would have a capacity 27 times greater than the 4.7-GB DVDs available today, and the playing device would have data rates 25 times faster than today's fastest DVD players.

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