picture-10.pngBond: [glances up……..]
Goldfinger: You are looking at an industrial laser which emits an extraordinary light, not to be found in nature. It can project a spot on the moon – or, at closer range, cut through solid metal. I will show you.

picture-8.pngOr maybe Raydiance will. We’ve been watching as former AOL Chief Executive Barry Schuler’s latest start-up tries to turn a military-grade laser into a commercial product: a device more powerful than the fireworks you’re missing by reading this, that can be used for all manner of purposes. “Bits and blades are all going to be replaced by light,” Shuler told Wired magazine recently about the project, still in development. He said the laser will be used to “cut metal, heal burns and kill cancer tumors — all without damaging heat”

Sound like Hollywood? It’s not. It’s the defense industry. After leaving AOL, Shuler was introduced to the technology through a Department of Defense program that pairs successful entrepreneurs with internal projects that it believes have commercial promise. It had been working on the a short-pulse laser project with the University of Central Florida. Schuler formed Raydiance and bought the rights, and has since received $25 million from venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a $10 million research contract from the US Navy and more angel funding from former Senator Bill Bradley.

This laser is no Hollywood prop. The technology itself has been around for years. The Petaluma, Ca.-based company’s innovation is that it takes a room-sized laser machine, fits it into a desktop-sized device and provides better software controls. Here’s a little more about the science, from a recent BusinessWeek article:

Unlike conventional lasers found in DVD players, phone networks, and welding shops, USP lasers switch on and off at impossibly high rates–as quickly as once every femtosecond, or a billionth of a millionth of a second. Those concentrated blasts can obliterate any material by literally knocking electrons out of an atom’s neighborhood. That means the lasers can do their job a few atoms at a time if need be, without heating up surrounding material. Since the zapped material is ablated into oblivion, there’s nothing to heat up or melt.

According to the Santa Rosa Press-Gazette, the first commercial applications will be out later this year.

The SF Chronicle points to one company, called EpiRay, that’s licensing the technology to use for cosmetic purposes. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ajit Shah, who has experience developing surgical systems for SRI International, is raising $500,000 in seed funding. A former Raydiance consultant, he hopes the new device will be able to do things like remove tattoos — vaporizing the dyes that form a tattoo without burning the skin, in contrast with today’s painful techniques. However, the article notes, that he won’t be able to start testing with FD oversight and approval.

Companies like EpiRay are part of Schuler’s plan. He wants Raydiance’s technology to be the source of a new set of commercial laser innovations.

This is quite a leap from Schuler’s job at AOL, where according to a “resume” from 2001, his “proudest accomplishment” was “confounding the technology elite of Silicon Valley, who thought AOL was doomed because it dumbed down the Internet.” What lessons from AOL, we wonder, will Schuler bring to commercializing this space-age technology? Basic scientific research always promises a lot, but is hard to turn into profitable companies. We’ll keep watching.

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