Ultrafast lasers trialled to store surgical information in glass

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Ultrashort laser pulses can be used to store information in little voxels in quartz silica glass. (Image: Microsoft)

A surgical robot developer is trialling Microsoft’s new Project Silica archive storage technology, which uses ultrafast lasers to store data in quartz silica glass.

The technology has the potential to preserve data inside the glass for millions of years without decaying.

Regular magnetic media can decay and be destroyed through a number of environmental factors such as water damage, heat, abrasion or EMPs (electromagnetic pulses). Hard disk drives can therefore wear out after three to five years, while magnetic tape may only last five to seven years. 

Long-term archival storage costs are driven up by the need to repeatedly transfer data onto newer media before the information is lost. Both the media and the equipment needed to do this continual upgrading are expensive. 

Glass storage has the potential to become a better match for this long-term archival data, as it only needs to be written into the glass once. The hard quartz silica is resistant to the above environmental factors, as well as being able to withstand: being boiled in water, baked in an oven, microwaved, scoured, demagnetised and more.

At room temperature, this durable long-term storage media could exist for millions of years.

Preserving surgical data

Data is critical to CMR Surgical’s mission to transform the future of surgery using robotics. The company is currently collecting and analysing large amounts of anonymised data gathered in keyhole surgeries by its Versius Surgical Robotic System. The firm intends to use this data to help standardise surgery, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

Clinical data from Versius procedures has already successfully been stored onto a 75 x 75mm proof of concept glass platter. By enabling long term archival storage, surgery data including procedural videos and critical telemetric data can be preserved. Over the long term, for example a surgeon’s entire career, this can be harnessed for future training and clinical study.

‘Through this exciting trial with Microsoft, CMR has the opportunity to use a ground-breaking technology of the future to store a vast amount of clinical data safely and securely,’ said Luke Hares, CTO of CMR. ‘This is important as collecting data across surgical practice will enable us to learn critical insights over time and realise our mission to make minimal access surgery available to everyone who could benefit.’ 

Jurgen Willis, VP of program management at Microsoft, added: ‘In this trial with CMR, Microsoft was able to demonstrate our innovation in long term archival storage. Long-term medical archival data can improve medical record management, enabling healthcare companies to help their patients more effectively. Working with CMR is an exciting milestone for Project Silica to learn more about long-term archival storage needs within the healthcare market.’

Project Silica was created specifically for the Cloud and opens up an opportunity to challenge and completely rethink traditional storage system design. As well as being plentiful, durable, and lasting for millenia, the media in Project Silica greatly contributes to sustainability, as it requires no electricity or air conditioning in storage and never needs to be re-written.

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