New Holographic Memory Device Could Boost Electronics' Storage Capacity, Processing Power

By Josh Lieberman on February 20, 2014 2:14 PM EST

holography
Researchers say their new holographic memory device could lead to holographic storage systems. Other forms of holography are used in everyday objects like credit cards (above). (Photo: Flickr: dominicspics)

A team of American and Russian researchers have created a new holographic memory device that could one day provide "unprecedented" increases in the electronics' storage capacity and processing power. First conceived as early as the 1960s, holographic memory has been long been researched by institutions from IBM to DARPA, but is nowhere near the inside of your laptop or cellphone yet.

"The results open a new field of research, which may have [a] tremendous impact on the development of new logic and memory devices," said lead researcher Alexander Khitun of University of California, Riverside. Khitun and his team detailed their findings in a paper published in Applied Physics Letters.

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The researchers' holographic system uses spin waves instead of optical beams to read data. Made up of oscillating magnetic material, spin waves are ideal for use in electronics, as they are both compatible with current devices and can operate in smaller spaces than optical beams. A laptop using spin-wave technology could potentially fit a terabyte of data into a space the size of a sugar cube.

Holographic storage also offers greater data transfer rates. Whereas magnetic and optical beam systems read information linearly, one bit at a time, holographic storage can read and write millions of bits of data in parallel. Instead of a (relatively slow) optical beam moving over bits of information, holographic storage writes data using a flash of light

Holographic technology has been around in various forms since the 1940s, when it was first used in electron microscopes. The technology is harnessed in a variety of ways, from anti-counterfeiting measures in the new $100 bill to acoustic holography used in radar systems. You may be carrying a hologram in your wallet right now, as several state licenses now contain them, as do some credit cards.    

But the dream of a fast, high-capacity holographic storage system remains elusive. Khitun and his team's holographic memory system could mark a turning point, but their device is still very much an experimental prototype. Back in 2005, one of the major players in holographic storage, InPhase, boldly declared its intention to bring holographic storage to market by the the following year. That never happened, and the bankrupt company was sold for parts in 2012.

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