Swiss scientists believe they have found the next storage breakthrough in the technology behind the atomic-force microscope, developed at IBM’s Zurich research facilities in the late 1980s. The microscope uses an extremely small needle tip a few atoms’ width from a surface to sense the attractive atomic force of molecule-sized bumps and indentations. As the tip can also write to a surface, the researchers say they have the capability of building storage with at least four times higher density than the theoretical limits of magnetic media.
Reading is much slower using atomic force sensors than with magnetic readers, but the Swiss team has built a solution using an array of 1,024 tips in parallel. Their prototype uses heat in individual tips to write on a plastic surface, which can be erased by heating all 1,024 tips simultaneously. Currently, the read rate is still slow but the problem is, reportedly, the software that runs the system rather than the technology itself, The group hopes to develop storage with contemporary speeds but much greater capacity in the near future.