Scientists at GE Global Research announced Monday the development of a computer disc capable of holding 100 times the data contained on a regular DVD, a breakthrough the company expects to revolutionize optical storage technology.
“We have gone from surface storage to volume storage,” said Brian Lawrence, a research scientist who leads GE’s Holographic Storage program. “It is a huge breakthrough and a milestone in our development,” he said.
The disc can store 500 gigabytes of data, equivalent to 20 single-layer Blu-ray discs, 100 DVDs or the hard drive for a large desktop computer. A gigabyte is equal to 114 minutes of uncompressed CD-quality audio.
“We’ve been working on this project six years. We still have a ways to go, but this was the most critical step, getting material to meet commercial requirements,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said a commercial device to read the disc is still under development. GE has a working model in its laboratory. It plans to roll out the commercial application in 2011 or 2012 and the consumer version 18 months later, he said.
At some point, GE expects to develop a rewritable disc capable of holding one terabyte of data; the current disc is read-only. This technology would transform the way computers operate, Lawrence said. One terabyte represents a quarter-million songs.
Lawrence said the research team, consisting of 30 people of different technical disciplines, developed a material to record data in the volume of the plastic itself. Current CD and DVD technology only allows data to be stored on the surface of the material, which limits the amount that can be recorded, he said.
“We are able to make this happen because we had 30 people working across a huge spectrum of disciplines. We have ability to work on the drive and work on the materials and to do it together,” Lawrence said.
An added benefit of the new technology is that the discs do not use metal in their construction, as do current CDs and DVDs. Over time metal corrodes and the data stored on CDs and DVDs is lost, Lawrence. The new technology is expected to store data for up to 100 years, he said.
“Our discs are holographic. We are not using any metal. The holographic is a pattern created in the plastic,” Lawrence said. Holograms are three dimensional constructs embedded in the disc.
GE plans to present the technology at the Optical Data Storage Conference in Orlando, Fla., May 10 through 13.