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CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558
COMMENT:Prof. Lambertus Hesselink, Electrical Engineering (415) 723-4850
EDITORS:This is a joint release with IBM's Almaden Research Center.

$32 million program to develop holographic storage begins

STANFORD and SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A joint university/ industry/government consortium has begun to develop holographic data storage systems that can hold more than 12 times the information of today's largest magnetic hard disk drives and maintain data input and output rates more than 10 times faster than is possible today.

The five-year, $32 million Holographic Data Storage System (HDSS) program is being supported 50 percent by the U.S. Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and 50 percent by the 12 participants. ARPA's aim is to see if this technology could help provide modern soldiers and command centers with rapid access to the large amounts of information and visual images they expect to need to be successful in the 21st century. Corporate participants anticipate significant applications in aviation, computing, image processing and telecommunications.

The project's principal technical investigators are Lambertus Hesselink, professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, and Glenn T. Sincerbox, a scientist in the optical storage technology department at IBM's Almaden Research Center. The financial and administrative aspects of the HDSS program are managed by the National Storage Industry Consortium.

In addition to Stanford and IBM's Almaden Research Center, the HDSS participants are:

Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.), GTE Corp. (Mountain View, Calif., and Rockville, Md.), IBM's Watson Research Center (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.), Kodak (Rochester, N.Y.), Optitek (Mountain View, Calif.), Rochester Photonics (Rochester, N.Y.), Rockwell (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), SDL, Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), University of Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.) and University of Dayton (Ohio).

Holographic data storage uses lasers to store information as "pages" of electronic patterns within the volume of special optical materials. Because a million or more data bits are placed on each page and thousands of pages can be stored in material no larger than a small coin, holographic systems offer the possibility of compact devices holding many trillions of bytes of information. Since there are no moving parts and all the information in each page can be accessed simultaneously in parallel, the technology also has the potential for very rapid access to any of the stored data. The HDSS program was formed to develop several key components and to integrate them into separate write-once and rewritable systems that demonstrate its extraordinary potential: a capacity 1 trillion bits or more and a data-throughput rate of at least 1 billion bits a second.

The worldwide market for information storage and retrieval products is currently greater than $50 billion and is widely expected to grow substantially in the future. Potential applications for holographic data storage systems include satellite communications, airborne reconnaissance, high-speed digital libraries, rugged storage for tactical vehicles, and image processing for medical, video and military purposes.

The HDSS program is the natural complement to the Photorefractive Information Storage Materials (PRISM) program that involves many of the same participants and the same principal technical investigators. The PRISM project is developing optically sensitive materials optimized for storing holograms and also is studying the various tradeoffs that must be made between mutually exclusive performance parameters. HDSS takes the next step: developing the other hardware technologies needed for practical holographic data storage systems and integrating them into demonstration systems.

The initial goals of the HDSS project are to develop several key components for the system, including a high-capacity, high-bandwidth spatial light modulator used for data input; optimized sensor arrays for data output; and a high-power red-light, semiconductor laser. At the same time, the HDSS researchers will explore issues relating to optical systems architecture (such as multiplexing schemes and access modes), data encoding/decoding methods, signal processing techniques and the requirements of target applications.

The program's ultimate goal is to integrate all the components into separately optimized systems that will demonstrate write-once and rewritable holographic data storage. Demonstration systems will be located at GTE/Optitek, IBM Almaden and Rockwell.

Optitek will focus on image-based services and systems, such as video-on-demand, large repositories, medical databases and digital motion pictures, with an emphasis on enhancing overall system performance. IBM will focus on applications that would benefit from high-speed random access to large databases - such as image retrieval and processing - as well as enhancing the performance of hierarchical storage systems. Rockwell's targeted applications include system demonstrations on aerospace platforms where compact, lightweight and robust systems are needed for future in-flight information systems.

Hesselink is a pioneer in the area of holographic data storage and most recently has led development of the first digital holographic display system for storage and retrieval of video and data. (The system was described in the Aug. 5, 1994, issue of Science magazine.) Sincerbox's involvement with holographic data storage dates back to the early 1960s - even before the invention of the laser - when he helped IBM develop for the U.S. Air Force the world's first working holographic data storage system, a write-once system using photographic film.

"In the past, efforts to develop holographic storage systems have taken place independently in academic and industrial laboratories," Hesselink said. "Because no individual organization has the resources or technical breadth to develop all the enabling technologies, the systems that resulted were often compromised in performance and cost effectiveness."

Sincerbox added, "For the HDSS program, we have assembled a broadly based team of experts with the skills to optimize the various components' technologies and integrate them into data storage systems. We've recognized the potential of holographic data storage systems for decades. But only recently have some of the essential components and technologies - such as those used in mass-market camcorders and portable computer displays - become available and affordable."

The National Storage Industry Consortium is a San Diego, Calif.-based organization whose 36 industrial and 42 university members conduct joint, pre-competitive research in digital recording technologies through a variety of separate projects.


  • GTE Corp. - Al Rabassa, (301) 294-8621;
  • Kodak - Michael McCreary, (716) 477-7053; fax: (716) 477-4947
  • Optitek - Bert Hesselink, (415) 966-3191;
  • Rochester Photonics - G. Michael Morris, (716) 272-3010;
  • Rockwell - Paula Ross, (805) 373-4558
  • University of Arizona - Ed Stiles, (520) 621-3754;
  • University of Dayton - Steve Gustafson, (513) 229-3978;
  • NSIC - Dale Hollabaugh, (619) 621-2047;
  • ARPA - L.N. Durvasula, (703) 696-2243;



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