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  • Startups to watch in 2010

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2010
Even in a troubled economy, young optics and photonics companies continue to press forward. Here are 10 newly minted businesses to keep an eye on as we move into the new year.

Gary Boas, gboas@eggship-media.com

Cyan Optics, founded in 2006 and headquartered in Petaluma, Calif., offers highly integrated packet optical transport systems for the telecom industry. In September 2009, the company formally introduced its Z-series multilayer transport platforms with more than 20 carrier customers; it reported that it had raised at least $27 million in three rounds of funding from venture capital companies such as Azure, Grande Ventures, Kinetic Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners.

• Poway, Calif.-based Daylight Solutions has developed a broadly tunable or fixed-wavelength mid-infrared laser source combining quantum cascade gain media with its external cavity quantum cascade laser technology. Using this source, the company manufactures a range of components, subsystems, and systems for sensors and high-power illuminators.

“We recognized that, if you can generate sources and subsystems operating in the 3- to 12-µm range, you have a number of clear market opportunities,” said CEO Tim Day. “But they also have to be very compact, fully integrated telecom-type packaging solutions.”

The company serves three major sectors. The first is the scientific research market. The second is defense and security applications – for example, thermal imaging, laser aiming, countermeasures and free-space communications – that can benefit from low-weight, highly integrated systems. The final sector is sensors, for CO2 or glucose detection, for instance.

“There’s a whole range of molecules that you can address if you have control of the wavelength in the 3- to 12-µm regime,” Day said. The sensors also can be used for environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics applications.

FASORtronics, in Albuquerque, N.M., manufactures guidestar lasers for observatories to use with adaptive optics. These sodium laser sources are based on a single-frequency, continuous-wave architecture demonstrated at the US Air Force’s Starfire Optical Range. The company’s plan is to propose, engineer and build guidestar lasers for use with the larger telescopes, including the 8- to 10-m telescopes in operation and the 25- to 50-m telescopes on the drawing boards.

• Boulder, Colo.-based mBio Diagnostics reports that it is developing simple yet robust medical diagnostic solutions for doctors’ offices and clinics as well as for less traditional point-of-care locations – kiosks in large discount stores, for example. The company’s initial focus is on infectious disease testing, particularly multiplex assays for HIV- and AIDS-related co-infection screening and HIV patient management.


In Boulder, Colo., mBio Diagnostics is developing medical diagnostic solutions focusing on infectious disease testing. The company is designing the systems for developing countries as well as for the domestic market and therefore is making them simple yet rugged.

Besides domestic markets, the company is designing the screening systems for developing countries as well, thus helping to meet an important global health care need. It currently has an instrument in Mozambique (The word “mbio” is Swahili for “fast.”), where it is running clinical trials. Chris Myatt, founder and CEO of mBio Diagnostics, a subsidiary of Precision Photonics, expects to have a product on the market in 2011.

Mobius Photonics, which recently moved its headquarters to Mountain View, Calif., offers fast-pulse fiber-based laser sources. The current product family, dubbed the G1+ Laser System, features fundamental (infrared) as well as second- and third-harmonic (green and UV) outputs. The system generates pulse durations down to the hundreds of picoseconds and up to the tens of nanoseconds.

The sources are used in several application areas, said Kiyomi Monro, vice president of business management at Mobius. In microscopy, for example, they are used in stimulated emission depletion (STED) experiments at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany, offering a novel laser source for STED microscopy that should facilitate development of more compact and versatile systems.

OneChip Photonics of Ottawa develops and manufactures high-performance optical transceivers based on monolithic photonic integrated circuits in indium phosphide for a variety of telecom applications, including access networks and other mass-market broadband applications. The company believes that this technology will help to overcome the various cost and performance barriers that have hindered widespread deployment of fiber to the home.

OneChip announced last March that it had secured $19.5 million in venture capital financing from Canadian and US investors including BDC Venture Capital, DCM, GrowthWorks Canadian Fund and Morgenthaler Ventures. In addition, it was cited as being on Canada’s “Companies to Watch” list at the 2009 Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards. Also in 2009, OneChip received the Outstanding Technology Company Award from the IEEE Ottawa Section.

• Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Picarro produces gas analyzers for monitoring carbon emissions. Conventional infrared spectrometers offer relatively limited sensitivity to trace gases in the atmosphere – typically the parts-per-million level. Using its WS-CRDS (wavelength-scanned cavity ring down spectroscopy) technology, Picarro has demonstrated gas analysis at the parts-per-billion level and, in some cases, the parts-per-trillion level.

The company, which received a Technology Innovation Award from the Wall Street Journal, has built the technology into a portable device that needs relatively little maintenance, so it is easily deployed in the field. Thus companies that are required to reduce emissions under cap and trade or other rules can measure the emissions remotely in the downwind plume, for example, at considerably reduced cost.

QD Vision of Watertown, Mass., another Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award winner, has developed quantum dot lighting technology with which to improve the color quality of LED lamps, among other applications. Founded in 2004, the company has secured more than $20 million in private investments.

• Since its inception in 2003, Los Angeles-based RealD has become the leading provider of 3-D projection technology for movie theaters, with its products accounting for roughly 90 percent of the US 3-D market today. And much of this success, said Joshua Greer, president and co-founder of the company, is due to the acquisition in 2007 of Boulder, Colo.-based ColorLink, whose polarization control solutions – and in particular its retarder stack technology – have since served as cornerstones of the company’s development efforts.


Los Angeles-based RealD has utilized polarization control solutions from ColorLink, which it acquired in 2007, to advance its 3-D technologies for the theater and home markets.

In addition to developing its cinema and pro lines – the latter serving several branches of the military, for example – RealD is eyeing the home 3-D market. “The movie industry is used to seeing revenue from home video and other markets,” Greer said. “So we have been quietly working toward this through technology developed for the pro line. We have been preparing for 3-D in the home for a number of years.”

Solyndra, headquartered in Fremont, Calif., produces cylindrical solar modules designed specifically for the commercial rooftop market. The cylindrical design provides for more efficient collection of sunlight across a wider range of angles, even capturing light reflecting off the roof. At the same time, the thin-film technology used with the modules contributes to lower production costs.


GLOSSARY
thermal imaging
The process of producing a visible two-dimensional image of a scene that is dependent on differences in thermal or infrared radiation from the scene reaching the aperture of the imaging device.
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