Will holograms replace traditional compact discs?

The next big thing in data storage is right around the corner. Ed Engelking tells you what to expect from photo-addressable polymer technology.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Men in Black is when “J” (Tommy Lee Jones’ character) refers to a portable stereo as "an amazing little gadget—it'll replace CDs soon." He must have been referring to holograms! That's right, folks. Forget all the hype about faster CD-ROMs and the newest DVD players. If a few German scientists have their way, holograms will soon be replacing CDs and DVDs.

Holograms? You're kidding!
According to the science team at the Bayer Institute in Leverkusen, Germany, scientists are on the edge of a breakthrough. By using photo-addressable polymers, or PAP for short, they believe massive amounts of data can be stored on a disk the size of a CD. How much space might that be? It’s roughly around 1 terabyte, which equals approximately 1,500 standard CDs. Not too shabby!

How does PAP work?
CDs and DVDs use a two-dimensional, flat surface to store information, but holograms will use a three-dimensional surface. This means that the hologram will be able to be read from multiple angles, whereas CDs and DVDs must be read from one standard position. Because the hologram can read from so many positions, much more information can be stored in the same amount of space used by a CD or DVD.

How fast is PAP access?
Not only will PAP allow large amounts of storage space, it will also be incredibly fast to read. It is estimated that a hologram will be able to access data at around 1 gigabyte per second, which is about 100 times faster than a standard DVD-ROM.

When will PAP hit the streets?
While the technology at this point is sound, the amount of information that can be stored on a hologram at the moment is very small. The polymers are to blame—current polymers are extremely thin and can't hold much data. To store massive amounts of data, larger polymers must be produced. Scientists working on the project estimate that they will have developed the polymers needed within a few years.

Read all about it
If you’re curious about this new technology, you can find plenty of information about it on the Web. Follow these links to find more information about photo-addressable polymer technology:
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