OS News

20 Nov 1999

Going With The Florescent

By Colin Cordner

FMD stands for Florescent Multi-layer Disk  
No matter how much you advance your ultra-glorified record player, the inevitable problem of space comes up on that small, 2-dimensional surface  
Another approach that has been persued is to expand the data storage medium into the 3rd dimension  
C3D's florescent technology can scale up to an impressive 1.4 terabytes of data  

A few weeks ago, a team of scientists and researchers collectively known as the C3D Corporation made their first full-scale public relations announcement. Well, the subject of that announcement was of their successful testing of their premier product and pet project - the FMD-ROM.

FMD - the fresh new abbrev. to be married onto the ROM family well known for the CDs and DVDs that store our Celtic dance music, our B-movie compediums, and our precious computer database of Grandmas' secret recipes. For those of us disinclined to turn anything other than a cynical parting glance at the fresh new twig on the ROM family tree, FMD goes a long way towards distinguish itself from its siblings.

The FMD, if you were wondering, stands for Florescent Multi-layer Disk. Before the cynics out there get the misguided impression that this is a transparent attempt on C3D's part to revitalize the day-glo fashion industry, be assured that what is really being put forth is a long sought solution to the compact data storage quandry. As you may realize, existing CDs, DVDs, and magnet storage devices essentialy act as space-age gramaphones. That is, a high tech "needle" - a laser in the case of CDs and DVDs, a magnetic sensor among most magnetic media - reads data - in the form of dots, grooves, or magnetized areas - off the surface of a spinning disk.

One problem with this approach - no matter the media - is a finite availability in real-estate. No matter how much you advance your ultra-glorified record player, no matter how senstive the "needle", and how well you manage to compress and squeeze the data into smaller and smaller areas, the inevitable problem of space comes up on that small, 2-dimensional surface. In fact, once you have compressed the 1s and 0s into the most compact form possible, you are still limited by the available surface area available to write to. The two traditional approaches to tackling this show stopping engineering headache, are to either increase the surface area - resulting in a much larger, bulkier, and power hungry device - or to increase the number of surfaces - either by spreading the data over multiple CDs, or stacking several thinnly divided platters in a hardrive.

Another approach that has been persued by researchers at universities, and private organizations for years, is to expand the data storage medium into the 3rd dimension. The 3-dimensional approach would allow much, much more data to be stored on a device of conventional size. C3D has had a breaktrough into the 3-D arena with their FMD technology, which allows multiple layers of data to be printed onto the surface of a CD-sized 12cm disk. This might not seem to novel for those familiar with DVD technology, which allows for two seperate layers of data to be printed to either side of a disk. What sets FMD appart is the sheer number of layers that are made possible. Unlike DVD's two layers, FMD is capable of scaling up to 100 layers or better - allowing for a tremendous amount of data to be stored to a single side of a disk.

The secret behind this incredible layering ability is not a new manufacturing process, but rather an intrinsic feature of FMD that seperates it from CD and DVD technology. In order to read information from a CD or DVD, a laser is emitted towards the disc's surface, where data is written as a series of pits and grooves. When the laser encounters a pit or groove, the light is reflected at an angle which causes the laser light to hit a sensor, which registers it as a 0 or 1. The feature that can be considered to be holding back these technologies is the use of coherent light to read data. A beam of light is considered "coherent" when its constituent waves march in regiment, with the ebbs and peaks of each wave marching in perfect timing with its fellows to every side. The problem with this approach as far as we're concerned, is that it becomes very difficult to matain a coherent beam when your attempting to project a laser through multiple layers. For that reason, DVDs have so far been limited to a maximum of 2 layers per surface.

FMD, on the other hand, does not rely on the reflection of a coherent beam to transmit information from the disk to the sensors. With FMDs, the laser light is used only to stimulate the florescent material imbedded in the grooves and pits in the disk's many layers. When the florescent material is charged, it emitts its own coherent and incoherent light at a wavelength different from that of the laser. In an FMD's case, though, it is the incoherent light which carries the information, and the different wavelength of the florescent light also serves to greatly reduce interference with the laser. It is because of these features that the C3D team has been able to engineer disks with 10, 20 , and more layers, all of whom are perfectly readable at remarkably high speeds of up to 1.0 gigabytes per second.

When everything is tallied, C3D's florescent technology can scale up to an impressive 1.4 terabytes of data storage when applied on a single sided 12cm disk with 100 layers. Since these layers are only 50 micrometers (microns) thick each, there is also no evident size problem with these disks; an important consideration when adapting existing production lines for turning out disks themselves, and the devices that read them.

At this stage, the C3D team is very optimistic when regarding FMD¹s prospects. ³With C3D's new FMC and FMD technologies, gigabytes will replace megabytes as data storage's common currency," said Dr. Eugene Levich, president and CEO of C3D, Inc. "This dramatic expansion in memory capability and concurrent reduction in carrier size will permit all kinds of new devices, such as palm-sized PCs and 'E-books'."

Already, C3D has produced 10 layer CD sized disks cabable of holding 140 Gigabytes of data, as well as FMD-drives, and 20-layer FMD-cards named FMCs (Florescent Multi-layer Cards) that can fit in a wallet and hold over 10 Gigabytes of data. As well, C3D has also successfuly experimented with 3cm mini-FMDs that hold the same amount of data as a double-layer DVD. Both FMDs and FMCs have been produced in ROM (Read Only Memory), and in a WORM (Write Once-Read Many) format, with research being done into producing a rewritable format. The FMD technology also recently completed its arduous testing period with flying colours, when it successfuly completed a 10 000 hour marathon of continuous data access.

According to one analyst, ³Storage needs are projected to increase more than ten-fold in the next five years. Multi-layering fluorescent data storage technology has the potential to be a key technology that enables storage devices with dramatically higher capacities," says Wolfgang Schlichting, Storage Analyst for International Data Corporation. "The market potential for this technology will increase substantially once affordable recordable products become available."

With the successful development of florescent disk technology, C3D has set before us a veritable feast of possible applications, that would leave any engineer drooling in sensory overload. FMDs could prove extremely useful for storing HDTV video for consumer release; a task that could easily eat up 7.5GBs per hour of signal, and therefor out of the league of DVD. FMDs applications as storage for computers, game consoles, and MP3 music files is also without question. All told, the new advent of day-glow technology could face computer users, and other Information Age inhabitants with a situation they've seldom faced; actually having more data storage space than they can use.

Colin Cordner is a suspected human (of sorts) who's rarified version of reality (such as it is) has sometimes been known to coincide with our own (for the most part). On those rare occasions when it does, he is most often found at his day job at Fall's Edge, or else moonlighting at The High-Performance PC Guide.

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