How a pioneer in using optics for drones found success in Rochester and Syracuse

Zak Niazi was a student in the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester and asking the question: What if? What if he could find a way to show 360-degree video without the complicated and tedious stitching required to make a seamless stream?

The question led Niazi to find solutions in physics for that kind of real-time, spherical, 360-degree streaming video. In overly simplified terms, he used polygonal lenses and designed them to have polygonal fields of view, instead of circular lenses with circular fields, and stuck them together so that where they touch each other the fields of view line up.

Niazi let the person who assembled the first system name the product. He chose Hydra, after the mythical Greek character with multiple heads. In 2017, Niazi founded Circle Optics, which is now based in Rochester. Who might use Hydra and Circle Optics technology?

NASA and the Department of Defense, especially the U.S. Air Force and Space Force, are among customers. So are companies developing technologies for fields in UAS, the unmanned aerial systems commonly called drones.

What makes it useful in drone technologies?

“You get much higher quality data, and you don’t get the overlapping fields, which is what takes lots of post-processing and computer resources,” Niazi said. “On a small drone, an eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft), and other aircraft, it drains away your battery.

“Higher quality data then leads to better AI (artificial intelligence). That leads to better decision making from the drone. Better data also leads to a more complete visual perception of the drone’s surroundings for remote operators.”

The drone application brought Niazi to the GENIUS NY program at The Tech Garden in Syracuse, where his company was a GENIUS finalist and won a $500,000 investment.

He’s learned that starting and leading a growing company requires giving autonomy to others. It can be hard for an entrepreneur: “When you start a company, it’s your baby, and so you’re very protective of it.” He said good leaders establish a bold purpose larger than themselves, creating a North Star for their company.

Original Source: Syracuse

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New York Photonics is a not-for-profit organization founded to promote and enhance the New York State optics, photonics and imaging industry by fostering the cooperation of business, academia and government.


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