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Company HQ: Rochester, NY
Team Size: 10 employees
Focus: Capturing immersive, real-time experiences through seamless 360° content
An interview with COO, Ian Gauger
Tell us about your company:
Circle Optics is a deep-tech R&D team specializing in wide-field imaging systems. Our first product which we call Hydra, is a 360-degree camera, that can see a complete spherical view. It’s different from any other 360-degree cameras because we can capture higher resolution with less distortion. Due to our method of using novel optics, we can combine field of view together at the speed of light within the optics as opposed to using powerful post processing software. You get real-time high resolution, low distortion spherical images and video.
How did Circle Optics get it’s start?
Circle Optics originally came out of a desire by our founder Zak Niazi to merge two technologies he was seeing used out in the world. He saw that VR headsets were becoming popular while at the same time there were 360-degree cameras on top of Google cars driving throughout the world and he wondered, why can’t I put on a headset on and feel like I’m riding along the Italian Riviera or visit the pyramids in Egypt?
While Zak was at the Institute of Optics University of Rochester, one of the top optics institutes in the world, he learned from an advisor and mentor that this task would be extremely difficult. It just wasn’t possible to do images at that high resolution, with little distortion and high frame rate because it takes a lot of post processing to correct every image. If you are filming 60 frames per second, which most VR does, it would be an incomprehensible amount of data to go through and try to fix after the fact. Already, Google Street view has about a 6 month back log trying to process all of their data before getting it out to their website. A lot of this has to do with the corrections they have to make and even so, you still get some blurry, misaligned images and not a smooth walk-through at 60 frames per second. This all goes back to the issue of parallax and distortion that is inherent in cameras today. In his senior lens design class, Zak tried to solve this issue, but was only able to correctly identify the problem and not yet come up with a solution.
A few years later while he was working in Australia, Zak had a light bulb moment for a solution. Back in the U.S., he began work on the solution, polygon fields of view which align along their edges. Zak realized that no one had done this before so he filed a patent and that is when Circle became a company.
What has your experience been like with current and past GENIUS NY companies?
Yes, that is one of the bonuses of GENIUS NY, the network is a lot of the reason why we want to be here. We’ve had a number of conversations with different drone manufacturers currently in the GENIUS NY program like Airial Robotics and past companies such as Fotokite. Right now, we are trying to get a better understanding of their exact needs in order to determine the specs we want to get to with our next system. Our methodology allows for a large range of system sizes, geometries and resolutions, but ultimately there’s tradeoffs. Some companies may want a very small system which is more important than the end resolution, while others may prefer as high a resolution as possible, even if it requires a larger device. So having these conversations has allowed us to understand what the majority of drone companies want to see and to hone in on the specs for what that next system should be.
Hopefully, we will be able to form a partnership with one of these companies in order to get our system on their drone, allowing us to validate to the market that this system works.
How is the data stored and transferred from the Circle Optics camera system?
We can run a cord right from the device to transfer data. When we perform demos, we connect the system to a laptop so the computer can run a VR headset. We can also run it straight to an SSD and store it or you can run it to a computer and live stream it over the internet. We are looking into options to incorporate 5G technology or other types of wireless technology so that when you capture something, it can be beamed right back down to the ground in real-time.
Who is your ideal customer?
There is a very broad range of companies and a variety of industries that would have interest in our technology. We are starting out by targeting defense and aerospace companies because of their high interest. This is going to help us mature our technology prior to pushing into other commercial markets. A lot of the interest we have been seeing from defense and aerospace comes from the use of our systems on aerial vehicles or electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOLs).
What can we expect from Circle Optics in the future?
The next big step for us is to take our technology which we’ve built and demonstrate its capabilities. Also, finding and working with a drone partner in order to continue testing our product to work in various conditions that may come up, such as vibrations or temperature changes. After that, we will continue to produce smaller size versions which will open up lots of other potential opportunities. With a much smaller system, we will be able to produce 360-degree videos in very small spaces such as interiors of vehicles.
Why are you excited to be part of the GENIUS NY program?
We are excited to progress our company, to get to market and generate revenue. All of our previous market research pointed us to the drone market indicating UAV’s as being great potential for our technology, so we’re excited to be here to better network with the unmanned ecosystem in order to get our product out the door soon.
What are you looking forward to while staying in Syracuse?
Being from Rochester, NY I have been in and out of Syracuse many times, but since I moved downtown here, I get to experience things in a very different way. It’s one thing to just drive in and out to go to the Dome for a concert, verses me biking here to the office everyday or walking around on a Sunday afternoon and coming across a new store or place to see.
What do you plan to do with your funding from GENIUS NY?
We have a lot of hiring to do. Even though we have been growing really fast this past year, we still need to continue to grow in order to expand our product and company. Some immediate needs we have are adding business development staff as well as Human Resource and IT Support. We would also like to build some partnerships and start collaborating with local vendors who can help us build the mechanical and electrical components of our systems.
Be sure to check out Circle Optic’s website for information and to stay connected.