At Ignite 2019, Microsoft unveiled ‘Project Silica’, a venture that Microsoft Research has been working on for the last several years that uses laser optics to store virtual data on quartz glass. This is tech designed primarily for storing archival data in the cloud and benefits from long-lasting reliability that stretches into centuries.
Microsoft said its researchers had produced a piece of glass that is 7.5 centimeters long and 2 millimeters thick and contains the entire 1978 film “Superman.”
Researchers used lasers to carve tiny three dimensional etchings into the glass’s surface that could be read by machine learning algorithms trained to look at the patterns created when a light is shined through the glass.
The research builds on other Microsoft projects that aim to store data more efficiently in the long term. A concurrent project is centered on an invention dubbed Pelican that uses cold storage to preserve dozens of disk drives.
Lab photos show the meticulous process behind Microsoft’s latest accomplishment :
The project is meant to provide new ways to physically store information for long periods at a lower cost. Unlike film reels or microchips, which are relatively fragile and must be stored under certain conditions, the piece of quartz glass is “surprisingly hard to destroy,” Microsoft said.
The glass is designed to withstand being baked in an oven, microwaved, scoured with steel wool, demagnetized, and subject to “other environmental threats,” the company said.
The glass was encoded with a device called a femtosecond laser that releases extremely short pulses, allowing for a high level of detail.