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Light-analysis software explodes across industries

State: California

Region: Far West

Agency: NASA

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Lambda Research Corporation's first software product was created to address the problem of stray light affecting the performance of optical devices like cameras. 

“We had an educated hunch there were other applications for this kind of software,” said cofounder Ed Freniere.

Little did he realize just how many. The TracePro light-behavior modeling technology, developed through Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR contracts with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is now used in the automotive, commercial lighting, defense, medical, consumer electronics, and solar energy industries. 

JPL granted the Littleton, Massachusetts-based company an SBIR contract in 1993 to develop a user-friendly program to predict how light from objects outside a camera's field of view would affect the pictures it produced.

There was a program available for this purpose, but it was expensive, difficult to use, and incompatible with both Windows and computer-aided design (CAD) software NASA used to design telescopes and other instruments. Lambda's CAD-compatible software addressed all of those issues.

Before the end of its second JPL SBIR contract, the company had released the first commercial edition of the TracePro software, which is still its flagship product. A 1995 SBIR contract with Goddard Space Flight Center provided further enhancements to the technology.

Since then, countless NASA imagers have benefited from TracePro - but they're not alone. 

TracePro’s largest market is in optimizing overhead lighting, from street lamps to offices. Engineers designing solar collectors can use TracePro to determine where mirrors should be and how they should be angled and bent.

In medicine and life science, there are many ways light can noninvasively monitor functions, from pulse monitors to cell imaging, tissue characterization, microscopy, and monitoring blood-sugar levels. In all these devices, TracePro helps engineers maximize results.

The program can also help design everything from car dashboards to signs and lamps to cameras and telescopes.

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