Custom optical components fall into two categories: transmissive and reflective. Transmissive components are filters, lenses, prisms, beamsplitters, fiber optics, and other components, while reflective components are retroreflectors and mirrors. Both types can be further customized using different processes, substrates, and thin-film coatings.1

We’ll explore optical components’ various uses and applications, from consumer products like virtual-reality lenses to optics for medical devices or defense uses.

Consumer Products

You may not realize that some of the custom optics we work on here at Apollo Optical Systems may have found their way into your own home! Here are a few examples of how custom optical components work in consumer products:

  • Gesture recognition: Optics record motion and pattern-recognition software is used to interpret hand movements as commands.
  • 3D imaging: Polarized lenses restrict the transmission of light to limit images to each eye, creating 3D entertainment for film or gaming uses.2
  • Virtual and augmented reality: Holographic optical elements mimic the human eye’s capabilities for immersive experiences.3

Commercial Products

A wide variety of commercial products utilize custom optical components:

  • Projection systems: Polarizing filters, dichroic mirrors, or prisms projects an image onto a larger screen.
  • Aircraft lighting: Fiber optic lighting and high-powered lasers with optical fibers to reduce weight and interference with aircraft structure and maintenance.
  • Semiconductor inspection equipment: Optical detection systems inspect wafers and masks for particles and defects.
  • Barcode: Optical components, such as rotating prisms and optical mirrors, in barcode scanners, collect optical signals to convert them into electrical signals.
  • Scanner/print head: Optical character recognition converts images into digital or physical reproductions. Lasers are a part of scanning and integration.
  • Solar concentrators: Lenses, mirrors, or other optical components collect sunlight and focus it into a photovoltaic cell array to convert it into electrical energy.4
  • Fiber optics: Fiber optics transmit the information as pulses of light through fiber strands to provide internet, phone, and television.
  • Anti-counterfeit: Holograms and custom optical components prevent unauthorized reproduction.5
  • Cameras: Lenses collect light scattered on the surface of an object to reconstruct it into an image.
  • LED Lighting: LED optics are complex and use lenses to direct light from the center of the source to the reflector, which then sends out a controlled beam. Secondary optical components, such as lenses or reflectors, may be used to make LED lighting more suitable for different applications. LED lighting has architectural, medical, aircraft, and automotive applications.
  • Substrate-guided components: Relays employ light-guiding substrates to relay images from sources to an optical display system viewer.
  • Beam shaping and homogenization: Multiple lenslets divide a beam into smaller beams to redistribute irradiance and phase and attain the desired beam profile.

Medical Products

Custom optical components are part of a variety of medical products:

  • Ophthalmology: Optics are used for glasses, contact lenses, and magnifying aids.
  • Endoscopy: An endoscope uses two fiber optic lines – a light fiber and an image fiber that carry the image within the body to the physician’s viewing lens.
  • Illumination: Light-based medical equipment uses optical components for data collection.
  • Analytical instrumentation: Analytical instruments rely on optical detection methods, such as benchtop devices for blood analysis.
  • Head-mounted optics: Optical displays assist surgeons, and medical personnel visualize the worksite.
  • Cameras: Like consumer cameras, medical cameras use optical components to convert the light on the surface of an object into an image.
  • Sensors: Sensors are used in devices, hospital and lab equipment, and wearable devices to sense movement and position.6

Automotive Components

You can find custom optical components in a variety of automotive parts:

  • Interior lighting: LED lighting provides ambient light in a vehicle’s interior.
  • Emergency vehicle lighting: These vehicles use linear optics surrounding an optical reflector to stay visible from all directions.
  • Head and tail lights: LED head and tail lights maximize visibility for the driver while minimizing glare for the oncoming driver.
  • Back-up lighting and cameras: Wide-angle lenses, LED lighting, and camera optics provide reverse lighting and cameras to make backing up safer and more aware.
  • Substrate-guided TIR light pipes: Light pipes and light guides are used in lighting systems for vehicle illumination.

Defense Applications

While we can’t get into very much detail, optical components play an important role in a wide variety of defense applications:

  • Guidance systems: Precision optics are vital to successful strikes from unmanned vehicles and precision-guided munitions.
  • Head-mounted displays: Optics provide pilots with enhanced imaging and projected displays in helmet-mounted displays.
  • Optical sensors: Photonics-based spectrometers and holographic imagers are used for sensing, mapping, and identifying enemies over long distances. Spectrometers also detect explosives.7
  • Weapon-mounted illumination and sensors: Visible light and infrared sensors enhance tactical weapons.
  • Night vision: These devices use IR transmitting lenses to discern images in near-infrared light for low-light visibility.

Apollo Optical Systems Custom Optics

Apollo Optical Systems (AOS) specializes in creating custom optical components for various devices and applications. Scientists and engineers at AOS understand the major optical and mechanical design programs to provide a solution to your project. Contact us for an estimate!

Sources:

[1] https://www.photonics.com/Articles/Optical_Components_Finding_Your_Way_Through_the/a25455

[2] https://illumin.usc.edu/the-new-dimension-of-entertainment-3d-technology/

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41377-021-00658-8

[4] https://www.optica-opn.org/home/articles/volume_22/issue_1/features/solar_concentrators_using_optics_to_boost_photovo/

[5] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4757-9250-8_78

[6] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02447325

[7] https://photonicsapplicationsweek.com/military-defense-aerospace/

About Dale Buralli

Dr. Dale Buralli has served as the Chief Scientist for Apollo Optical Systems since 2003. In this role, Dr. Buralli is responsible for the design and optical modeling of various optical systems. These systems include virtual or augmented reality, ophthalmic and other imaging or illumination systems. Additionally, he provides support for optical tooling of lens molds and prototypes, including the development of custom software for both production and metrology. Dr. Buralli got his Ph.D. in optics from the University of Rochester in 1991. Now he is an Adjunct Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics.

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