Lasers in the sky
Incubator business set to scan clouds, weather
By THADDEUS MAST
A local company set up at the University of Wyoming Incubator could advance scientific research of clouds, as well as possibly create safer air travel and assist the oil drilling business.
AlpenGlow Instruments, LLC, is a company centered on lasers. The lasers are set to be placed on aircraft and could be used to study cloud formations.
“You can measure things, like particles in the atmosphere, without actually touching what you are measuring,” said Perry Wechsler, AlpenGlow CEO.
The use of lasers as measuring tools, sometimes referred to as lidar, has been around since the 1960s, Wechsler said, but the instruments are typically ground-based.
“Our field of expertise is providing customers solutions with custom configured instruments for individual aircraft,” he said.
The system is similar to radar, but with lasers, Wechsler said. The instrument can detect minor changes in the atmosphere, such as tiny particles of dust, water and ice in clouds. Currently, the main use for the device is to figure out how clouds work and other research purposes, but the instrument could be placed on commercial aircrafts and be used to avoid ice and storms in clouds.
Wechsler said he also has scientific data stating the lidar system could be used to detect trace amounts of chemicals, and could be used to detect methane leaks on oil well pads.
The company currently has two instruments, but each system costs around $200,000.
Wechsler, Nick Mahon and Zhien Wang — all working from the UW Department of Atmospheric Science — started forming the idea of air-mounted laser systems a decade ago.
“As soon as Zhien came in, he wanted to build (the instrument),” Wechsler said. “We eventually even deployed the device on aircraft.”
The lidar instrument eventually attracted the attention of two research firms in Canada, who wanted the trio to build the firm a device as an entity of UW.
“We really couldn’t do that. The university is not set up to do maintenance or training,” Wechsler said.
To allow the three faculty members to get more involved with possible retail application of the instrument, they founded AlpenGlow Instruments a little over a year ago, and soon after moved into the UW Wyoming Technology Business Center.
“(Incubator staff) have been amazing,” Wechsler said. “They have not only provided ideas but also given us the infrastructure and contacts in the industry. They provide mentorship of how to get our company going in a way that actually works.”
He hopes the company will have a new facility in a couple of years, after they start getting a steady cash flow.
A second-generation device is nearly complete, Wechsler said, and a number of systems integrator companies have shown interest in putting the devices in clients’ aircraft.
“Hopefully in a week we will get some orders,” he said.