The Table-Top Laser
The Ultra Short Pulse (USP) laser, a technology that once required a room-full of equipment to implement, has been shrunk to a desktop model:
Barry Schuler, the former CEO of AOL, has a laser he says can do it all. It can cut metal, heal burns and kill cancer tumors -- all without damaging heat.
All you need is one of his ultrashort pulse, or USP, lasers, he said. To change the function, just change the software. He's so confident in the technology that he's built his latest business venture, Raydiance, around it.
"Bits and blades are all going to be replaced by light," says Schuler, who ran AOL after the Time-Warner merger. In 10 years, he said, the technology will lead to a "smart" power tool that won't need sharpening and won't cause injuries.
The technology can't do any of these things yet. All Raydiance has is a small black box -- but that's no small feat. The technology once filled a large room at Darpa until Raydiance scientists made it into a compact, tabletop unit. Schuler said he hopes it will replace just about any cutting device you can think of, from a big metal saw to a precise surgical blade.
Scientists have long known that USP lasers could do cool things, literally, by cutting without generating heat. But the lasers' complexity and large size made the technology impractical. Now that it's a little bigger than a breadbox, researchers want to use them to kill cancer tumors, identify friend or foe during combat, and even remove tattoos. The company has distributed about a dozen Raydiance units to researchers around the country, and hopes to have 30 in the field by the end of 2007.
I'm thinking that a technology like this might provide a real boost for desktop fabrication systems as well.