September 03, 2012
Credit: POLARIS SENSOR TECHNOLOGIES
Sometimes a reputation for expertise in one area can bring in work in others. That is the case for Polaris Sensor Technologies, which finds that its command of the science of polarization makes it a go-to company for customers with difficult problems in optical physics.
Founded in 2003, Polaris is a woman-owned small business based in Huntsville, Ala., that specializes in high-performance optical systems, including sensors and seekers, that exploit polarization—the phenomenon behind three-dimensional movies.
The principals behind Polaris are the products of an optics program at the University of Alabama in the early 1990s. “The core team has worked together for about 25 years. We started working together at university and reconvened at Polaris to do polarization research,” says Larry Pezzaniti, chief technology officer. “Our backgrounds address a lot of different things. We are not just optical physicists.”
Polaris got its start building high-end electro-optical sensors for the U.S. Army and Air Force Research Laboratories under small business innovative research (SBIR) contracts. “We completed the Phase 2 SBIR projects, started several other programs, developed more customers and became the go-to company with several customers for high-end imaging,” he says.
“For the past 10 years we have been bringing state-of-the-art technologies to polarization problems,” Pezzaniti says. Polarization helps optical sensors pick out artificial objects from natural clutter. “Man-made objects tend to be polarized, while natural objects are unpolarized,” he says. “So when a man-made object at thermal equilibrium disappears in infrared, you can still see it in the polarization.”
Polaris has built small numbers of advanced polarimetric sensors in various wavebands, including visible, short-wave, mid-wave and long-wave infrared. “Any optical sensor can be converted to measure polarization as well,” says Pezzaniti. “When you add polarization, you lose some of the light, so it is part of our bag of tricks to be able to minimize and compensate for that.”