Optical components

A Discreet Peek at Picarro

Details are starting to trickle out about a new player -- or more accurately, a new name -- in the tunable laser space, Picarro Inc.

Picarro has managed to keep out of the limelight until now by changing its name every now and again, and also by shifting product strategy on at least one occasion.

The startup started out in 1998 as Informed Diagnostics. Back then it was developing gas sensing equipment for monitoring environmental pollution, with funding from a U.S. government Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant.

Sometime in 2001, the company changed its name to BlueLeaf Networks, turning its attention to optical components (see Blue Leaf: From Gas to Glass ). At the time, Light Reading reported that it could be working on tunable Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs). Right or wrong?

"VCSEL technology is one of the things in our toolbox," says David Hughes, Picarro's VP of marketing. "But it's wrong to assume that every product includes VCSEL technology. I would say it's unlikely we'll use VCSEL technology," he adds unhelpfully.

However, Hughes does say that Picarro is keen to be identified as an upcoming tunable laser vendor, in preparation for a coming-out announcement "sometime in the next year."

So, if not VCSELs, what technology is the startup using?

Hughes notes that the sensing products Picarro was previously developing "required a laser that could tune over 100 nanometers or more at nanosecond speeds." Beyond that he doesn't wish to comment publicly.

Sources say, however, that Picarro is developing a tunable laser that is high-power -- in excess of 20 milliwatts. That makes it doubtful that it is using VCSEL technology because VCSELs are very low-power devices. Bandwidth9 Inc.'s laser has an output of just 1 mW, although the company claims this is adequate for metro applications now that amplification is being introduced in metro networks.

It also makes it unlikely that Picarro's device is based on multisection Distributed Feedback (DFB) Lasers like those from Agility Communications Inc. and Bookham Technology plc (Nasdaq: BKHM; London: BHM), whose technology came from Marconi plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI) (see Agility Packs Three Into One and Marconi Claims Tunable Laser Advance). This type of laser achieves medium powers of 4 to 10 mW.

The most likely answer is that Picarro is developing an external cavity device, and sources confirm this. This means it will compete in the metro and long-haul markets with startups like Iolon Inc. and -- perhaps in the future -- with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which entered the game by buying the tunable laser business from New Focus Inc. (Nasdaq: NUFO) (see Intel Scoops Up New Focus Laser Unit).

This also fits with what's know about "cavity ringdown spectroscopy," the technique the company was using for its sensing work. According to an SBIR report that Informed Diagnostics filed in 2000, the device consists of a standard DFB laser inside a three-mirror cavity. One of the mirrors in the cavity is curved and placed so that the laser beam hits it square on, while the other two are each placed at a 45 degree angle of incidence on either side of the laser beam.

Sources say that unlike the Iolon and Intel technologies, Picarro's laser has no moving parts. Exactly how the tunability is achieved is still unclear.

Picarro is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., and has recently opened an office in Ottawa. It is funded by Greylock, Benchmark Capital, Weston Presidio Capital, and Staenberg Venture Partners. The amount hasn't been disclosed, but the company does say it is enough to last two years.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
BobbyMax 12/4/2012 | 9:25:58 PM
re: A Discreet Peek at Picarro Because of the declining DWDM market, the market for Tunable Lasers is not all that hot.
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