Glass Slivers To Store Data for Millions Of Years Says Hitachi

By Pamela Perez

Japan’s Hitachi is looking to immortalise data on slivers of quartz glass, ushering in a new wave of digital data storage technology.

By Pamela Perez

Japan’s Hitachi is looking to immortalise data on slivers of quartz glass, ushering in a new wave of digital data storage technology.

This ultra long-term storage tech uses a laser to encode data in binary form by creating dots inside a thin sheetof quartz glass that can be read back by an optical microscope. As long as a computer that can understand binary is available, no matter how advanced computers become, the data will always be readable.

If this technology does indeed work, it could set back every other existing storage technology. A hard drive in a computer will probably fail inside 10 years and a frequently used flash drive can last around half as long.

"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, according to Agence France-Presse.

"The possibility of losing information may actually have increased," Torii said, referring to the current life of digital media on CDs and hard drives, which is limited to a few decades or a century at most. "As you must have experienced, there is the problem that you cannot retrieve information and data you managed to collect."

Hitachi’s new technology may just stand the test of time as Hitachi conducted a test where it heated one of the bits of glass to a temperature of 1,000° Celsius for two hours and was able to read all of the information back. It is also waterproof, meaning it could survive natural calamities, such as fires and tsunami. Hitachi is confident of the longevity of the storage method- even pegging it to survive to as far as hundreds of millions of years. 

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

There is a downside however. The technology has yet to improve on the density with which it can store data. It was only able to store around 40MB per square inch, while a modern hard drive can store up to one terabit per square inch.

Hitachi has yet to decide when to put the chip to practical use but researchers said they could start with storage services for government agencies, museums and religious organisations. More information will be released on the technology at the International Symposium on Optical Memory in Tokyo, Japan on September 30.

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