Updated: July 15, 2020 05:57 PM
Created: July 15, 2020 03:44 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Zak Niazi's journey started with a simple question: Why had no one figured out a way to create a 360-degree camera that could map the world continuously without having to stitch images together to align fields of view? He set out to solve the problem while studying at the University of Rochester.
"I initially worked on the problem as a senior in college, couldn't figure out how to do it, so I got a bad grade in the class and came back to the problem like a year and a half later when I was living in Australia and kept thinking to myself, I really want this to exist so my family could experience what it's like to walk through the streets of Sydney," Niazi said.
He kept working at it and finally realized he needed to build a new type of camera from the ground up.
"Effectively, how you would do this is create polygonal lenses that have polygonal fields of view and those polygons tile together naturally in a seamless way to create a panorama in real-time," Niazi said.
A simple concept Niazi says, but one that even the tech giants like Google hadn't figured out.
"I think it's mainly because everyone's approaching the problem thinking, well, this is just how cameras work today, they're circular and they have overlapping points of view and parallax is just a fundamental problem you have to deal with," Niazi said.
In 2017, Niazi partnered with college friend Ian Gauger, they were accepted into an optics accelerator program in Rochester, and Circle Optics was born.
Two years later they had patented their technology and are now in the design and prototyping stage of a camera they call Hydra.
"Right now we're less than a month from finishing the designs on our next system and then we're going to look to manufacture that system," said Gauger, who is the company's chief operating officer. "Once this system is ready, we're really going to look to scale and start producing hopefully thousands of these systems in the future."
While their initial system is focused on media and entertainment markets, they see applications in the defense, aerospace and medical fields as well.
"You can imagine miniaturizing this system, making an endoscopy version one day that a doctor can use to probe 360 degrees all around a patient," Niazi said. "You can imagine making a system for aerospace and being able to image ultra-high-resolution, because traditionally cameras are limited by distortion and how much field of view you can have."
Niazi says the biggest hurdle he faced was having the courage to chase, what was then, an untested concept.
"And you have to go convince, at first, family and friends to try to scrape together some funds to put that, and what if I'm going to be wasting all their money and hard-earned savings on something that at the end of the day doesn't work," he said.
Now with 12 people in their core team, Circle Optics is looking for strategic partners to help them license their technology.
"There's so many different potential use cases for this camera and we can't do all of them ourselves. So we need to find partners who we can work within each of these different arenas, and five years down the road I'd say we're working with large camera manufacturers as well," Niazi said.
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