Hitachi targets 2015 for data storage that last 100 million years

The Japanese conglomerate's research division has developed a durable glass-based storage medium

Hitachi has developed a glass-based data storage medium that is highly heat and water resistant, capable of holding data for hundreds of millions of years, and says it may be able to bring it to market by 2015.

The company's main research lab has developed a way to etch digital patterns into robust quartz glass with a laser at a data density that is better than compact discs, then read it using an optical microscope. The data is etched at four different layers in the glass using different focal points of the laser.

"Initially this will be aimed at companies that have large amounts of important data to preserve, rather than individuals," said Tomiko Kinoshita, a spokeswoman at Hitachi's main research lab.

Hitachi said the new technology will be suitable for storing "historically important items such as cultural artifacts and public documents, as well as data that individuals want to leave for posterity."

Kinoshita said the company will need at least three more years to commercialize the technology, but is currently envisioning a system where customers send their data to Hitachi to be encoded.

Hitachi has succeeded at storing data 40MB per square inch, above the record for CDs, which is 35MB.

The company has tested the durability of the quartz glass it uses and determined that it will last for "hundreds of millions of years." It said samples held up to two hours of exposure to 2000-degree-Celsius heat in an accelerated aging test.

Hitachi said it first conceived of the idea of storing data by etching it into quartz glass in 2009, but read and write times remained an issue. The company uses tiny dot patterns to store bits, and has recently developed a way to etch 100 dots at a time, greatly improving the write time.

The company is developing the technology in conjunction with a research lab at Kyoto University.

It was unclear whether the optical microscopes needed to read the storage medium will still be available in the year 100002012.

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