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Five to ten years out, holographic storage could become a mainstream consumer technology – or a colossal flop. The still unanswered questions involve the long-term reliability of the components and, of course, cost. The technology must be dependable enough to convince customers to trust it with their most important data yet cheap enough to become ubiquitous.

InPhase will compete with a smattering of other holographic-storage companies. Tokyo-based Optware is targeting consumer video applications with a simpler technology more similar to traditional DVDs. And Aprilis in Maynard, MA, a Polaroid spinoff, is going after some of the same markets that InPhase targets but is also branching out into biometrics applications like fingerprint matching.

“I expect them to coexist for a while, until the better one wins,” says IBM’s Coufal, an industry veteran who adds that the different companies’ approaches are all appealing. “Everybody would love it to succeed….Who will win, I don’t know.”

But whoever wins, holographic storage could change the rules for information technology by opening up the possibilities of working in three dimensions. Until now, storage – indeed, all of microelectronics – has played out mostly on the surfaces of materials. The benefits of exploiting the third dimension could go beyond storage to include more efficient ways to search ultradense databases, like those that store satellite images for mapping and surveillance; new kinds of displays; and even ultrafast processors whose logic circuits are carved into holographic materials.

“It will take time and some deep pockets,” says InPhase’s Lignos, “but we finally have the ability to take this to market.”

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