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Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2012

Hitachi develops storage device of a lifetime in quartz glass

AFP-Jiji

Good music lasts a long time, and now high-tech giant Hitachi says it can last even longer — a few hundred million years at least.

News photo
A woman displays a section of Hitachi Ltd.'s newly unveiled quartz glass plate, which can store data for an indefinite period of time with no degradation, at the company's head office in Tokyo on Monday. The technology stores binary data by using a laser beam to create dots inside the thin sheet of quartz glass, which can then be read using an optical microscope connected to a monitor with data-reading software. AFP-JIJI

Hitachi on Monday unveiled a method of storing digital information on slivers of quartz glass that can endure extreme temperatures and hostile conditions without degrading, almost forever.

And for anyone who updated their LP collection by storing those vinyl tracks on CD, only to find they then needed to convert it all to MP3, a technology that never needs to change might sound appealing.

"The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven't necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones," Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said.

"The possibility of losing information may actually have increased," he said, noting the life of the digital media currently available — CDs and hard drives — is limited to a few decades or a century at most.

And the rapid development of technologies has resulted in frequent changes in data-reading hardware.

"As you must have experienced, there is the problem that you cannot retrieve information and data you managed to collect," said Torii, apparently referring to nearly obsolete record players and films.

Hitachi's new technology stores data in binary form by creating dots inside a thin sheet of quartz glass, which can be read with an ordinary optical microscope.

Provided there is a computer with the knowhow to understand that binary is available — simple enough to program, no matter how advanced computers become — the data will always be readable, Torii said.

The prototype storage device is 2 cm square and just 2 mm thick and made from quartz glass, a highly stable and resilient material that is used to make beakers and other instruments for laboratory use.

The chip, which is resistant to many chemicals and unaffected by radio waves, can be exposed directly to hot flames and heated to 1,000 degrees for at least two hours without being damaged.

It is also waterproof, meaning it could survive natural calamities, such as tsunami.

"We believe data will survive unless this hard glass is broken," said senior researcher Takao Watanabe.

The material currently has four layers of dots, which can hold 40 megabytes of data per square inch (6.5 sq. cm), approximately the density on a music CD, researchers said, adding they believe adding more layers should not be a problem.

Hitachi has not decided when to put the chip to practical use, but researchers said it could start with storage services for government agencies, museums and religious organizations.



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