US Photonics Clusters Thrive on Regional Expertise

Fiber lasers in Florida
The Florida Photonics Cluster is centered around a highly regarded educational institution: CREOL, the College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida (UCF), the largest university in the nation.

“We have a very strong educational pipeline that prepares good photonics specialists, and it starts from magnet school programs in high schools,” said cluster president Alexei Glebov.

The organization has helped build UCF’s Business Incubation Program, a pipeline to turn technology developed at the university into startup companies. One of the program’s success stories is OptiGrate, where Glebov is CEO and president, a company that in 2017 was acquired by the fiber laser firm (and major Photonics West exhibitor) IPG Photonics.

When it comes to photonics, the region is booming. “Florida is doing pretty good, that’s for sure,” Glebov said. What’s driving the growth, he thinks, is the constant supply of an educated workforce from UCF, plus state and local government incentives for businesses, relatively inexpensive land, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the warm weather.

The region is now becoming a hub for smart optical sensors, Glebov added. Recently it became home to the BRIDG research facility for making and developing such devices. And Luminar Technologies, which builds lidar sensors for self-driving cars, has opened a manufacturing and R&D facility in Orlando.

The defense industry is also flourishing. L3 Technologies and Harris, who have just joined forces through the largest-ever merger in the US defense industry, are headquartered in Melbourne.

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