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High-risk plans win financial support

17 Sep 2003

Forty-four high-risk projects will share over $100 million in funding awarded by the US standards body NIST.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced over $100 million of funding as part of its Advanced Technology Program (ATP). The beneficiaries are 35 companies and nine joint ventures, each developing a technology which NIST has judged to “promise significant commercial payoffs and widespread benefits for the nation.”

The ATP provides early-stage investment in high-risk, high-payoff projects spread over a diverse range of technologies and applications. Individual companies receive up to $2million to cover direct costs over a maximum of three years.

Here’s a selection of the projects that involve photonics:

•  Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) is planning to make optical switches that operate at sub-microsecond switching speeds, some 10 000 times faster than today’s optomechanical versions. The company says this would make optical switching a viable option and eliminate the need to convert light to and from electronic signals. In the long run, the company says that its all-optical switching technology could slash network costs and bring about faster network connections.

•  Infrared Identification (IRID) plans to develop a “facial fingerprinting” system that uses both infrared and visible light. The system analyzes a person’s unique vascular features, such as blood vessels, to put a name to the face. IRID says that its vascular imaging system will be less vulnerable to varying conditions such as head-angle, expression or lighting.

•  Chiral Photonics will use its cash injection to develop so-called chiral fiber lasers (CFLs). These devices are based on a twisted glass fiber that precisely controls the wavelength and polarization of the laser output. The company says that it intends to build high-power CFLs that can be spliced directly to optical fibers, eliminating the losses that arise when coupling semiconductor lasers into fiber networks.

•  The Maxima Corporation plans to use its cash to develop a long-wavelength-infrared quantum cascade laser (QCL) for use in free-space optical (FSO) communication systems. The company hopes its QCL will penetrate fog up to 140 decibels per kilometer better than current short-wavelength lasers. Maxima will concentrate on developing a new QCL designs and packaging concepts.

Jacqueline Hewett is news reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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