‘5D’ storage could hold 10,000 times more data than a Blu-ray disc

A new approach to writing data onto glass using lasers could store 500 terabytes about the same optical disc – nonetheless it takes so long to create that its applications could be limited.

The technique uses similar technology to existing optical media, but can store 10,000 times more data than Blu-ray discs. It involves a laser that sends out pulses every femtosecond – 1 quadrillionth of a second – to etch minute holes into glass.

Yuhao Lei at the University of Southampton, UK, and his colleagues call the method five-dimensional (5D) optical data storage since it uses two optical dimensions, predicated on the polarisation and intensity of light, along with the usual three spatial dimensions, to record data.


In tests, the researchers were able to write 6 gigabytes of data onto a 1-inch square of glass. They could browse the data back with between 96.3 and 99.5 % accuracy, that could be improved to 100 per cent with an error correction algorithm, says Lei.

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“The major challenge for all of us is writing speed,” he says, as they could only write 225 kilobytes a second, meaning the 6 gigabytes took around 6 hours. “We aren’t currently doing parallel writing [where multiple laser beams write onto the material]. We’re working on enhancing that.”

“This data storage is quite durable and will withstand high temperatures, which means it can live almost forever,” says team member Peter Kazansky at the University of Southampton.

With small tweaks, the writing speed could become four times faster, says Kazansky – though he isn’t yet sure whether that could materially improve the potential for errors. The intention is to provide a storage way for national archives, says Lei.

“It’s great to start to see the apparently vast improvements that contain been made in the write speeds and general performance of this storage technology in a lab environment in simply a few years” says Ben Fino-Radin of Small Data Industries, a fresh York archiving firm, pointing to a 75 times improvement over a youthful version of the technique that could only write at 3 kilobytes per second in 2017. “What remains unclear is what practical role 5D glass storage could hypothetically play in the foreseeable future.”

Journal reference: Optica , DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.433765

More on these topics:

  • lasers
  • data

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