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Using Ultrasound to Increase Storage Capacity

Data storage can take on many unexpected forms. Documents and photos can be stored on everything from glass to DNA. Granted, some of these technologies are still in development, but there is much more out there than just a standard hard disk drive. There is now another element to throw into the mix: ultrasound. Researchers have found a way to use the high frequency sound waves to increase the storage capacity on magnetic drives. There is always a desire for more information to be stored in a smaller space at a reduced cost and low power consumption. Ultrasound could be the next step towards that.
Electrical engineers at Oregon State University were the ones who discovered this. The technology is called acoustic assisted magnetic recording and it was presented at a professional conference. A patent was filed for in the middle of February 2013.
Magnetic storage is very popular and it is one of the most inexpensive and widespread technologies. Computer hard drives and credit card strips all use magnetic storage. It is great because it is cheap and reliable. However, there is always a desire to try and fit more information on as the amount of data produced increases. As such, reliability can become a problem.
So, how does ultrasound help increase the storage capacity? It works similar to applying heat. Scientists say that if magnetic materials are momentarily heated then they become temporarily less stiff. This allows for more data to be stored in that specific heated spot. However, this has proven challenging as it is hard to contain the heat and it would usually spread beyond the desired spot.
The engineers at Oregon State are applying this with ultrasound. They direct the ultrasound at an extremely specific location, which creates elasticity that allows the material to bend or stretch ever so slightly. The original shape is then resumed immediately when the ultrasound waves stop. This means that there is reliability in the storage, unlike with the spreading heat.
According to the research, this method of using ultrasound could be applied to solid state drives. Unlike conventional hard disk drives, a SSD has no moving parts and as such boasts increased reliability and longevity.
Albrecht Jander, associate professor of electrical engineering at Oregon State and one of the researchers, said, “this technology should allow us to marry the benefits of solid state electronics with magnetic recording, and create non-volatile memory systems that store more data in less space, using less power”.
It is currently not known whether or not this ultrasound technology could leave the research labs and become a consumer technology. Storage technology is only becoming cheaper, with hard disk drives decreasing in price almost by the day and costing a tiny fraction of what they did decades ago. The research does not specify whether or not using ultrasound has any long term negatives on the drive, which might be a concern. It will be interesting to see how this develops and whether using ultrasound could be paired with other modern storage technologies.

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