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Microsoft’s Project Silica has preserved ‘Superman’ in glass

As hard as Hollywood studios work to ensure their works are preserved for future generations (and another special edition release), the sad fact is that 35mm film will eventually degrade.

But Microsoft believes it has developed a new technology that could ensure the classics are safeguarded in a physical format for thousands of years to come. The company has teamed up with Warner Brothers to showcase how its new Project Silica technology can be used to store a full resolution movie on a piece of glass the size of a coaster.

1978’s Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, has been transferred to a piece of silica glass, which measures 7.5cm x 7.5mm and is 2mm thick.

“Glass has a very, very long lifetime. Thousands of years,” Microsoft Research principal researcher Ant Rowstron told Variety, ahead of a showcase of the technology before its unveiling at Microsoft’s Ignite 2019 conference in Orlando.

The tech works by using lasers to burn small vowels into the glass, each of which stores multiple bits. The data is then encoded in multiple layers.

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The report explains: “Once data is stored this way, it can be accessed by shining light through the glass disc, and capturing it with microscope-like readers. In fact, in Project Silica’s early days, the company simply bought off-the-shelf microscopes for this process, which also benefits from machine learning to make sense of the captured light.”

Rowstron says the format, which stores over 75GB of data, can keep the contents safe for centuries and can even withstand a beating, to a certain extent. Microsoft tested the glass by baking it in hot ovens, dropping it in boiling water, microwaving and scratched it with steel wool without damaging the data.

“If you take a hammer to it, you can smash glass,” he said, but pointed out he “very confident,” in the overall durability.

Microsoft believes other forms of information can be stored in this way once the technology has progressed to the point where read-and-write operations are combined in a single device.

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