IBM has revealed details of a high-density storage technology that lets users store massive amounts of data in mobile devices, such as wearable computers.
Details of the prototype micromechanical device, named Millipede after the insect it resembles, emerged just days after IBM outlined another technique for boosting storage capacity, involving nanotechnology and chemistry.
Peter Vettiger, Millipede project manager at IBM, said the device will revolutionise mobile computing. "It could be used in almost any audio/video application and lead to a kind of wearable computer, which you'd keep in your pocket or wear like a watch. You could carry around your own data library," he said.
The technology is still at an experimental stage, but IBM says Millipede is 100-times denser than any hard drive commercially available.
IBM scientists have also devised a different technique that combines nanotechnology with chemistry, but likewise results in disk drives holding 100 times more data. The technology may enable computer hard disks and other data storage systems to store more than one trillion bytes of data.
Rob Hailstone, research director at Bloor Research, said it is not unusual for IBM to be investing in two strands of research, and that this reflects the firm's solid financial commitment to developing new technologies.
"One of the things that separates IBM from the rest of the field is its huge research budget," said Hailstone, who added that ultimately solid state technology with optical backups represent the way forward for storage technology.
For Millipede, IBM is using a technique called Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to boost the etching capability currently used in chip manufacturing.
Instead of one-tip etching on a chip, Big Blue is using 1024 tips poised on 1024 tiny cantilevers - hence the project's name - to poke indentations on polymer that sits on a little silicon table the size of a fingertip. The pattern of indentations makes up the stored bits of information, which can then be read by the tips. So far, the indentations are on the order of 30 to 40 nanometers, not yet at the molecular or even the atomic level, but that will probably change, according to Vettiger.
He said a Millipede system "roughly a centimetre by a centimetre, say half a centimetre thick, has the storage capacity of 10Gbs".
IBM expects it will be at least five years before products based on either technology become available.
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