We at Circle Optics are an eclectic group of interesting people who are deeply curious and want to make a difference through immersive experience. Meet Chief Research Officer, Andrew Kurtz. Andrew was employee number three coming to Circle Optics with already over 110 patents from his work as Principal Scientist and Director of R & D at IMAX, after working for many years as a Scientist in the Kodak R&D Labs.
What was the first indication you were going to go into R & D?
My sophomore year of high school I watched a NOVA program on PBS entitled Light of the 21st Century . In 1978, there weren’t yet even VCRs, and I watched the re-broadcast a week later. After that, I sent in $5.00 to obtain the printed program via snail mail. I found the technology fascinating. At that time, they framed laser technology as “a solution looking for a problem.” By the time I was ready to go to college, I had discovered that the University of Rochester had a program in optics and that is what I wanted to study. It is great that then worked out, as I struggled to have a backup plan. Journalism, perhaps?
With over 110 patents is there a favorite or an invention close to the heart?
There are many that were fun to work on. For now, I will highlight just a few.
My first patent was U.S. 4,868,383 Linear integrating cavity light source used for generating an intense beam of light. This was the only one I happened to obtain in the 1980’s. It was for a motion picture film scanner, which eventually became a product (the Spirit Datacine) and earned an Emmy Award. This patent was for the design illumination system design, to illuminate the film with a stable, uniform, diffuse line of light.
Another meaningful innovation was U.S 8,287,129 Low thermal stress birefringence imaging system. This patent was for laser based digital cinematic projection, and addressed the problem of how to project stereo content through complex projection lenses without thermal stress birefringence screwing up the polarized light. The work started at Kodak, but the technology was licensed by IMAX, where I then worked to help get it deployed in their GT family of projectors.
Finally, U.S. 9,915,820 Projector optimized for modulator diffraction effects. This was another laser digital cinema projection patent, targeting how to efficiently manage laser light off of Texas Instruments digital micro-mirror devices (DMDs) while maintaining high contrast.
For those interested in a career in R & D, what are have learned?
For industrial or systems R&D, collaboration is key. Whether it’s optics or mechanics or electronics or software, you need to understand how these different fields work together and sometimes work against each other.
In R&D, you need to expect that the unexpected will happen. Being comfortable with uncertainty is required. But once the unexpected occurs, adaptive, ongoing planning is then needed so as to succeed, which includes anticipating and managing risks.
Deft lateral thinking is key, to toggle between micro and macro with agility, to be able to see both the forest and the trees.
Finally, you need a really good sense of humor.
What most excites you about Circle Optics technology?
I enjoy developing new complex systems and solving problems that have never been solved before. As I began at Circle Optics it was like the beginning of laser technology “a solution looking for a problem.” We clearly saw the potential to enable enhanced cinema and VR content capture; an area for which there is still value and need. But our real-time, low parallax, multi-camera technology can help fulfill a variety of other applications. I am most excited about our UAV and eVTOL use case, to enable optical detect and avoid (DAA) to help avoid collisions. In our ongoing customer discovery efforts, we are learning many ways our imaging system can help optimize this new era of aviation.
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