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French partners sign IR development partnership

08 Oct 2013

Five-year deal will see IR specialist Sofradir exploit more research from public defense and aerospace establishment Onera.

Sofradir, the Paris-headquartered company specializing in infrared detectors and imaging, has signed a new five-year deal with Onera to accelerate the development of new thermal imaging technologies.

Researchers at Onera, a public-sector defense and aerospace establishment in France, are working on a number of infrared detection technologies, and it is hoped that the agreement will accelerate the transfer of that expertise into commercial products.

Sofradir CEO Philippe Bensussan said of the deal – not the first between the firms: “Sofradir and Onera are collaborating once again to break down the technological barriers in infrared by exploring new possibilities in optical integration and other techniques.”

“Onera is known for its vision, vast knowledge and expertise in aerospace and defense system design. We are excited about leading future developments in infrared detection. We have high expectations about what these advantages will bring to our customers who design optronics systems for defense, space and commercial applications.”

One of the infrared technologies previously developed at Onera is the “Scorpio” camera. Featuring panoramic fish-eye lenses for 360-degree viewing in a highly compact package, it was launched at the SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing show in 2011, and is designed for applications in drone or robot vision systems.

“Major technological advances”
Under the new agreement between the firms, technical themes such as integrated optics, greater compactness, improved functionality and higher performance are being prioritized.

Thierry Michal, acting managing technical director at Onera, commented: “This agreement is further evidence of industry’s strong interest in Onera’s advanced research. The long-term commitment Sofradir and Onera are giving this project will pave the way for major technological advances.”

Sofradir’s expertise has seen it emerge as a leading developer and manufacturer of advanced detectors right across the infrared spectrum. Following recent developments, the firm’s product portfolio now includes the full range of mercury cadmium telluride (MCT), indium antimonide (InSb), indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) and quantum well infrared photodetector (QWIP) technologies.

Applications that use those detectors include missile seekers, targeting pods, armored vehicle cameras and handheld goggles, and in 2012 the analyst company Maxtech International ranked Sofradir as the leading provider of MCT detectors for military applications – in a market that had previously been dominated by US companies.

Sofradir’s march to the top
The new Onera deal is just the latest in a series of agreements that should help to cement that market-leading position in the infrared space. Sofradir’s subsidiary ULIS, which manufactures microbolometers in large volumes, said in July 2012 that it would triple its manufacturing capacity following a €20 million investment.

Then in December last year, Sofradir’s parent companies – the giant defense contractors Thales and Safran – decided to transfer their InSb, InGaAs and QWIP technologies to the joint-venture.

However, cuts to military budgets in recent years by Western governments mean that the commercial sector is now seen as the main engine of growth for sales of infrared detectors in the future.

Last month, the French analyst firm Yole Développement predicted that after a sharp downturn in 2012, the infrared detector market would be buoyed by compound annual growth of more than 20% in application sectors such as automotive, surveillance, smartphone imaging and ultra-low-cost thermography.

As well as infrared expertise, in the photonics sector Onera is working on 3D laser and hyperspectral imaging platforms, and recently claimed to have set a new output power record for a fiber laser operating at 1.58 µm.

That wavelength can be used to monitor the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the Onera team’s laser reached a peak power of 1.7 kW in laboratory tests earlier this year.

Delta Optical Thin Film A/SBRD Optical Co., LtdESPROS Photonics AGAlluxaEaling UGPhoton Engineering, LLCSacher Lasertechnik GmbH
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