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Lucent has sent up a new venture, called InPhase, to investigate the potential of holographic storage, long the stuff of science fiction novels, and storage vendors' dreams.

In theory, three-dimensional storage would allow high storage densities and fast data transfer speeds. It would work by storing data as a series of interference fringes in a 3D matrix, which could then be read back with a laser. The pattern would be interpreted as binary data.

The move has the backing of three venture capital firms: Signal Lake; Madison Dearborn Partners; and Newton Technology Partners. The amount invested has not been disclosed. Lucent expects to spin the new venture off into a new company within four years.

The company's R&D will be led by Kevin Curtis, who was previously was in charge of the holographic group at Bell Labs in Murray Hill. The whole team from Bell Labs is now at InPhase, and more engineers are being sought.

Lucent blames the slow development of the technology on funding and materials issues, as well as the unexpected speeds and capacities now being realised in magnetic storage.

However, the company is further researching a photopolymer invented at Bell Labs. In an interview with the EETimes in 1999, Curtis said it had better dynamic range and more sensitivity than lithium niobate, a serious contender for use in holographic storage at the time.

Curtis said that his research group at Bell managed to reach capacities of 300Gb per square inch, using laser developed for DVDs, and transfer rates of "many tens" of MBps.

Of course other players are researching the same ideas, the lure of 3D storage is too strong to ignore. IBM is also working on it, as is Holoplex Technologies, started by Demetric Psaltis, a professor of electrical engineering at California Institute of Technology.

Lucent says that the company has funding for at least two years of R&D, so watch this space. ®

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