Cascading lasers: ARL’s progress toward high performance and entrepreneurship

What if a technology could provide high-bandwidth secure communications from acommand unit to a tank or other mobile unitwithout interception? Suppose that a line-of-sight laser beam could transmit real-time imageor voice data in a wireless form in a battlefieldenvironment, using technology that wassecure, small, inexpensive, and simple tooperate. Such a technology could meetrequirements for several military applicationsand also be available to the private sector forcivilian applications. For example, thistechnology would make it possible to “wire”homes, buildings, or even vehicles with a small,low power unit sitting on a communicationtower that beams into a nearby building avoice/data connection with no digging,conduit, or wires.While working at the Army ResearchLaboratory’s Sensors and Electron Directorate(SEDD), a research group of 12 scientists ledby Dr. Donald Wortman developed a new mid-infrared semiconductor diode laser with adistinct market advantage over alternative lasertechnologies. The newly advanced laser isinexpensive, lightweight, robust and simple tooperate, and offers far-reaching possibilities forboth military and commercial application.Believing that the opportunity forcommercialization was immediate, five membersof the research group decided to leave thegovernment, create a new company, raise thenecessary venture funding, and license thetechnology they developed for the Army. Thistechnology transfer effort not only led to theestablishment of a growing new privatecompany, Maxion Technologies, Inc., but willalso result in the application of funds to anR&D effort of direct interest to the Army. Thereturn on investment is in the work andtechnical expertise of this team of Maxionemployees, and the cost and savings are aresult of private funding support in lieu ofgovernment salaries. In addition, there is theproduction of a dual-use technology forcivilian use, and material and devices that willalso be used in military systems. Thistechnology transfer example serves as asuccess story and effective template for allfederal labs and their scientists who areinterested in dual-use technologyopportunities.
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