Grant helps firm fly with plan to improve aviation communication

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A group of Ellicott City engineers is working on what they hope will be the next generation of communications technology for aviators, and state dollars are helping them in their task.

TechnoSys Inc., an Ellicott City company, was recently awarded $50,000 from the Maryland Technology Development Corp., or TEDCO, to help the firm commercialize the fiber optics-based aviator headset that the company has been developing over the past several years.

The money from the Maryland Technology Transfer Fund will help the company develop a production prototype headset for use in military and commercial flight.

John A. Hunter, president of the company, said the product, which reduces electronic noise and interference for clearer communication, could be ready for production by June, and he hopes the company will win a bid to include its technology in upgrades to P-3 military spy planes.

"A lot of aircraft [that could have used the technology] have already purchased new systems, so we're hoping they'll continue to build new aircraft," Hunter said. "We're hoping to sell it to the government and other people ... in welding shops lab, radar shops, where they might have high electrical noise."

TecnoSys' Fiber Optic Crew Intercommunication System is an aviation system that uses fiber optics instead of electronics to improve communication in airplane cockpits, where the radars, navigation systems and other electronic devices cause a high degree of interference. Fiber optics is also less susceptible to eavesdropping techniques than electronics can be, and could be used in ship communication systems, as well.

"In the atmosphere, there are electrical fields that are being radiated all the time. All those things are picked up," by microphones, Hunter said. "We don't pick up [electrical] noise, and we don't radiate electrical energy either."

Although the company has been working for about four years on the device - which could cost from $120,000 for small aircraft to $1 million for large aircraft - the move to creating spy plane technology is a sharp departure from the company's previous endeavor of creating tracking software for printing companies.

But Hunter said the 11-year-old TechnoSys has followed the funding.

The quartet of engineers, who are all owners of TechnoSys, first won a $750,000 research grant through the Small Business Innovative Research Initiative four years ago to design a demonstration model of their concept.

Last year, the company received a $50,000 grant from the Naval Air Warfare Center to create technical drawings for the product to begin the commercialization process. The most recent award takes the commercialization efforts a step further, allowing the company to develop software and a production-ready prototype of core elements of the system. The company would still need another $50,000 to $100,000 to complete and test a full prototype, Hunter said.

The Technology Transfer Fund has awarded $1.1 million this year to help 22 companies commercialize innovations spawned at universities and federal labs in Maryland. The awards require that the companies that benefit from them match the award financially, and that a portion of the funds be paid back to the state for a limited time should the company have revenue, said Steve Fritz who is director of the TEDCO technology transfer program.

Phillip A. Singerman, executive director of TEDCO, said TechnoSys was a good investment because its technology had been validated by the other grants the company has won. TEDCO will hold its next technology showcase, where companies can find out more about its programs, at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on Sept. 4.

"We think they're going to do great," he said. "[the technology has] been validated by SBIR, and there's a customer interest on the part of the Navy. We try to maximize the possibility that the company we support will be successful and will create new jobs and tax revenue for the state."

Hunter said he has ideas on broader fiber optic distribution systems that the company could make next, but first he would like to find additional funding to complete development of the FOCIS system. If all goes according to schedule, the prototype could be complete by next June.

"We're always looking for applications to sell this," he said. "It'd be nice to have all this working so when the request for proposals come out, we'll have this ready."

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