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CIA invests in SiOnyx imaging technology

10 Aug 2012

Developer of “black silicon” laser texturing process for imaging and PV applications signs deal with In-Q-Tel.

In-Q-Tel (IQT), the technology venture wing of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has signed a “strategic investment and technology development” agreement with the Harvard University photonics spin-out SiOnyx.

The deal, for an undisclosed amount, is designed to help SiOnyx accelerate the integration of its “black silicon” sensors within imaging systems, thereby offering imaging across the visible and short-wave infrared (SWIR) frequency ranges with low-cost devices based largely on the CMOS chip fabrication process.

Founded by Eric Mazur and James Carey from Harvard in 2006, SiOnyx is working to commercialize the “black silicon” technology, which is based on a laser texturing process that improves infrared response.

The approach, which is also suited to improving solar cell performance, uses a picosecond pulsed laser to reduce the surface reflectance of the cell or image sensor surface below what is possible using standard chemical methods.

Existing investors in the company include Coherent – whose “Talisker” laser has been used by the SiOnyx team – and Vulcan Capital, the venture firm founded by Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen.

According to its most recent filing with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), by April 2012 SiOnyx had so far raised $6.8 million out of an anticipated $16 million round of equity funding.

Syd Ulvick, the senior VP in charge of IQT’s physical and biological technologies practice, said in a statement: “SiOnyx has developed a highly differentiated platform for advanced imaging systems utilizing [its] proprietary CMOS image sensor technology.”

“The company’s unique approach opens a host of new opportunities for wide-scale deployment of advanced imaging systems.”

SiOnyx CEO Stephen Saylor added: “Our partnership will expand our platform capabilities to to include applications that will potentially address the needs of the government market, while accelerating our entry into next-generation consumer and commercial opportunities.”

The CIA's photonics-related investments via In-Q-Tel
SiOnyx is far from the only photonics company to have received strategic backing from the CIA, which also invests in communications technologies. Other photonics companies in its portfolio include:

Advanced Photonix: developing terahertz imaging technologies

Alfalight: a specialist in manufacturing high-power laser diode and systems

Genia Photonics: ultrafast fiber lasers suitable for chemical detection

InView Technology Corp: infrared and hyperspectral imaging

LensVector: “solid-state optics” to replace moving parts in autofocus cameras

OpGen: optical mapping for whole genome analysis

Semprius: concentrated photovoltaics via micro-transfer printing

SpectraFluidics: surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) to trace airborne chemicals

Walleye Technologies: microwave imaging to “see through walls”

Edmund OpticsFISBAEaling UGNIL TechnologySPECTROGON ABDiffraction InternationalESPROS Photonics AG
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