Q5 Innovations bets on high-tech camera

Sage Baker may not be able to see into the future, but the founder and CEO of Victoria-based Q5 Innovations very likely has a better picture of it after test results of her company's polarization camera showed it is breaking new ground.

Q5, which bills itself as an innovation engine that finds intellectual property assets and works to bring them to market, thinks it's backing a winner with its real-time polarization difference imaging camera, called Detect POL, designed to enhance images captured in challenging environments.

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Baker says matter-offactly that the camera has multibillion-dollar market potential, likening it to the impact thermal imaging had on a number of sectors.

"This has the ability to be as big as thermal. It's a different way of looking at things," she said.

The camera improves target detection and highlights objects, shapes and surface details. It's able to see through challenging media like smoke, fog and turbid water.

It's not the first camera to be able to do that, but after testing at Université Laval in Quebec, it has been proved to be the first to offer video images in real time.

"It is exciting to work with an industry partner focused on technology innovation, like Q5, to evolve a product, but it is even more exciting when we are building and testing something that we have not seen before," said Simon Thibault, a physics professor at Université Laval and chairholder of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council's Industrial Research chair in optical design.

Previous incarnations of polarization cameras have worked with sequential capturing of images, subtracting one from the other to establish the "difference" image and delineate shapes and objects in the field of view.

The problem with that is if there is movement in the environment between shots, there will be movement in the image.

Baker said Q5's camera has broad applications from military and surveillance use - it can differentiate between man-made objects and the natural environment, giving it the ability to sense objects through camouflage - to health sciences and the energy sector.

It can be used in nuclear decommissioning, as it can see through very turbid liquid ponds, and in the oiland-gas sector looking through holes.

Baker estimates it will probably be a year before it will be ready for production for the commercial market.

She said the company has solid relationships within the military and oil sectors and will be looking at partnerships to carry the prototype through production and into the market.

For a product like the camera, which she believes will have broad appeal, the partnership deal is likely to involve Q5 retaining a stake in the product instead of selling it outright.

As for going it alone, that's not on the cards.

"Our goal is not to be the ones building manufacturing facilities and getting production going. We want to be the innovation engine," she said. "We want to stay thin and nimble - focus on the innovation side and not get distracted by manufacturing and distribution."

Baker said the success of the camera will depend on entering the market at the right time, and with the right partner.

"We want [a partner] to be incented to take it into the market," she said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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