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General Photonics

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 General Photonics, USA

Question 1: Describe the profound impact your technology – as part of an end-user product – has had on Society. How has the population been impacted by your technology. This could be behavioral, economical, societal, etc.
ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) is the highest and largest radio telescope array in the world. 66 mm-wave antennae are spread over a hundred square kilometers at 5,000 meters above sea level on the Atacama plains of Chile. The radio signals from the antennae are sent via optic fibers to a central location, and are synchronized and kept in phase using a fiber optic "stretcher" developed and manufactured by General Photonics.

Our patented technologies are embedded in the Line Length Corrector module that controls the delays of the signals from the radio antennae to the control center to a precision of less than 1 micron in fiber links up to 16 km long (6.3x10^-11 relative stability). This fine tuning of the path length enables the antenna arrays to be perfectly in phase to render the highest resolution images ever gathered of the far universe.  As a river of new data flows from ALMA, society will be impacted by new visions of the universe and a deeper understanding of our origin.

Question 2: Tell us about how your technology is unique?  What makes it stand out? How do you differentiate it from other similar technologies?
The challenge was to control the optical path length of the light by as much as 4 mm to an accuracy of less than 1 micron at rates up to 1 kHz in order to dynamically compensate for the signal path variations caused by temperature and mechanical motion in a fiber up to 16 km long.  At such a high accuracy, it is important at the same time to dynamically manage the state of polarization in order to minimize subtle polarization effects.

The technologies employed by General Photonics are covered by several company patents including US patent 6836327 B1 (in-line polarimeter), US patent 7382962 B1 (fiber stretcher), and US patents 6480637 and 6493474 (fiber squeezer polarization controllers). 

Other technologies provide path length control but at slow speeds, and are not available with polarization monitoring and control. The combination of delay and polarization management is the unique result of the extensive patent portfolio of General Photonics.

Question 3: When first launched, did your technology make a transformational change for the end-user or incremental changes by improving a current technology?  Describe this.
A transformational change is synonymous with “throwing out the old textbooks.” For example, when the first glass telescope was pointed toward the skies, all notions of the Earth being alone had to be abandoned. ALMA has already shown us that the behavior of the “old” universe is not what we theorized. This transformational change in our knowledge was enabled in part by the General Photonics Line Length Corrector module that allowed the scientists at ALMA to focus their radio telescopes beyond the “beginning of time.”

Transformation of our basic beliefs begins with satisfaction of our curiosity about our universe, and ALMA will do more to show us how we were formed than any previous technology.

Question 4: Give a specific example (with company names) of the buying chain for your product/technology once you sell it to the next level buyer.  Provide an example of the succession of companies your product goes through, ultimately to get to an end-user.  Example:  We produce a component that we sell to a laser systems manufacturer (name the company) who sells it to a medical OEM (name the company), who then sells it to a hospital (name the hospital).
In 2004, engineers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) requested a LLC (Line Length Corrector) for their customer, the ALMA project. General Photonics worked with NRAO for many years to refine the design, and the product was eventually installed at ALMA in 2011 by NRAO.For this scientific application, the buying chain is relatively simple.  When our technology is used in medical instrumentation, the buying chain is more complex. Typically, a medical system manufacturer integrates the General Photonics modules into an instrument that is then sold to a hospital or clinic. Doctors and patients have no direct knowledge of the General Photonics module installed inside the medical system or the role it plays in managing the light.

Question 5: In which vertical market(s) would you classify the end-users of this technology?
Society is the ultimate end user of advanced research. Future generations will benefit from the higher resolution of the solar system that ALMA provides, by knowing when and how the universe was formed.

When variations of the General Photonics optical delay and polarization control technologies are used in medical instrumentation, such as OCT systems, the patients are the end users that receive the benefits. Similarly, when our technologies are used for testing fiber optic telecommunication and sensor systems, design and test engineers are the end customers.  Our technologies are also used in fiber optic sensor systems for oil drilling or national security; in such cases, the end users are the automobile drivers and the public, respectively.   

Question 6: Give us your one sentence “elevator pitch” you would use to tell a non-technical person about your technology and the critical role it plays in Society.
When engineers design scientific, sensing and medical systems using lasers and optic fibers, they often need to precisely control the polarization and delay of the light. General Photonics is the leading company for the control and measurement of polarization and delay of light in optical fibers.

Question 7: Surprise Us!  What else should we know about your product/technology?
On March 4, 2010, an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 struck Calama, Chile, near the ALMA Radio Telescope site. The resulting earth movement at the site was 100 times the movement that would normally be expected due to normal temperature and mechanical effects. However, not only was the Line Length Correction system undamaged, but it recorded the earthquake to a precision heretofore unavailable to researchers.

Additional information.

  1. Pictures captured by ALMA (PPT)
  2. The movie ALMA - In Search of our Cosmic Origins (doc)
  3. Precision Timing Control for Radioastronomy (pdf)