More than 90% of the company's annual revenues go toward R&D, while the split between basic and product-related research spending is more equally divided. “For us, in a sense, we are creating a new market and by doing that we're trying to decide who will be the first customer. But on the flip side, for defining something for a specific customer, there is more basic R&D going on,” says Nugent. As a smaller company, LaserMotive must also leverage “a whole bunch of other [academic and industry] fundamental R&D, particularly in laser technology,” adds Kare.
The rate of innovation “could go even faster” if there were broader awareness of the technology around the industry as a whole. “The problem is getting the market to understand what this new capability can do for them,” says Nugent.
Still, Nugent sees a slow revival in the creativity climate. For the last 30 years, innovation has been stifled in the space and advanced military technology arenas by a fixation on large, long-term projects, he says. “This forced the industry into a mode of operating that was not as innovative, or not so attractive to work in.” However, over the past decade, the climate has started to change with the emergence of near-space and other markets. “There's a whole new generation of startups that really are bringing technology in from other areas and reapplying that in an innovative way to the aerospace world.”
One of LaserMotive's biggest challenges is to “say this technology—wireless power—is real, and it's here today. That's why we've been lucky to work with Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works with this demonstration on Stalker,” says Nugent. “People at trade shows say they've been watching us. So people in large and small companies at least have a notion that this technology is important. But we have very few that are willing to take the next step.”