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Holographic Memory (video)
June 05, 2001

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Elsewhere on the web

"How Holographic Memory Will Work" from

History of Holography

LightForest: The Holographic Rainforest exhibit at the MIT Museum

"On The Horizon: Holographic Storage"—Scientific American article

Holographic memory research at IBM’s Almaden Research Lab

If you like music, you probably have a substantial collection of compact discs, but what if you were able to take them all and put them on something the size of a single CD?

As this ScienCentral News video report shows, using holograms could allow that to happen.

Holographic Memories

"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!" Back in 1977 when Princess Leia transmitted her classic 3-D appeal via R2D2 in the original Star Wars, holography was supposedly poised to transform communications technology in the real world. But a generation later, the classic image remains just that and the only holograms we routinely encounter are on our credit cards.

But the promise of holography to store and transmit volumes of information in three dimensions is real, and today some major players say the fruit of decades of research is about to hit the marketplace.

According to Bill Wilson, chief scientist at InPhase Technologies, holographic storage media will replace CDs and DVDs in the next couple of years. "Typically you can store a single movie on DVD," Wilson says. "You’ll be able to store likely somewhere nearly a hundred movies on a piece of media this size using our current holographic materials and strategies."

Wilson says recent breakthroughs by researchers at Bell Labs in both optics and high-performance storage media have made this possible. Inphase has partnered with Bell Labs to commercialize the new technology.

To make a hologram of an object, light from a single laser is split into two beams. One of the beams, called the "reference beam," is sent straight to the target—traditionally photographic film, but in this case, a disc. The other beam, called the signal beam, is reflected off the object that is being holographed. The resulting hologram image reappears only when the two beams are realigned at an extremely precise point in the disk, so that big chunks of data can overlap without interfering with each other. When the "object" is information rather than an image, the principle is the same except that the data is first represented as a digital image similar to a checkerboard.

Bell Labs set out to find a new method for overlapping, or "multiplexing" multiple holograms that didn’t rely on large optical systems and moving optical parts. They invented a "fixed" optics system that’s compatible with the spinning disk architecture already used throughout the storage industry.

The other big problem was a cheap but reliable storage material. Wilson says the new holographic polymer is "the first real media that seems to be able to make holographic storage commercially viable."

"We will store somewhere between 10 and 20,000 holograms on a piece of media, each of those containing more than a million bits of information," Wilson says.

Wilson says the ability to not only store, but also transmit billions or trillions of bytes at a time via the Internet will make the "worldwide wait" a thing of the past.

As for holography’s other promises, digital holograms are coming into mainstream medicine. Voxel, Inc. produces lifesize three-dimensional images from data collected by Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance (MR) scanners. The "Voxgram" images are "transparent holograms that literally extend out in space, enabling physicians to interact in, around and through the images as if they were real specimens of anatomy," the company says.

And the streaming holographic video we saw in that first Star Wars episode may be on the horizon. Kodak admits its R&D "skunkworks" is working to develop it. And Video Streaming says it intends to be the first provider of fullscreen holographic video over the web. The company’s website claims it has a patent pending on its technology and the only thing holding up its service is the wait for high-speed connections to end users.

by Joyce Gramza

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