TWO decades ago the staff at emerging technology company Poseidon Scientific Instruments were tinkering away on radio technology for cray fisherman.
Today the business is manufac-turing precision oscillators worth about $250,000 a unit and selling them to defence industries across the globe.
The evolution into high-tech radar imaging technology was brought about by research developed within The University of Western Australia’s physics department.
PSI founder and managing director Jesse Searls had previously worked in the department helping develop the university’s sapphire clock technology and had heard about American interest in the product for defence applications.
The clock can define time over the short term better than any other clock in the world.
Its sapphire-loaded cavity resonator allows low noise signals to be generated directly at microwave frequencies, producing far less noise than traditional quartz-based generators, which made it an attractive feature for defence contractors.
PSI struck a licensing deal with UWA in the early 1990s to develop an oscillator that allows the user to see further, in much higher resolution, with less noise than units produced by other manufacturers.
PSI general manager Mark Suddaby said the company spent a lot of time and money developing the UWA research into a commercial application.
“The university had not taken the technology to the point where you could sell it. It was the size of a fridge and built for a slightly different purpose,” he said.
“What we have done through R&D is take that proof of concept to a commercial application for people that build radar systems, which is primarily defence.”
PSI’s oscillators are now sold across the world and the company is turning over $2 million a year, employing 19 people.
PSI’s oscillator sends out a signal, in a tone, and the distorted information that comes back is used to map out a picture of the object the signal was directed to, according to Mr Searls.
“Our signal generators produce so much lower noise than everyone else’s, so we can see smaller targets or see things that are much further away,” he said.
“If you are on a boat you are slow and a missile is pretty fast, so you want to be able to respond quickly.
“So if you can see something and use less power doing it than the less likely they [enemy] are to know about it.”
The product has been so successful overseas that the company is now receiving inquires from the previously reluctant Australian defence industries.
PSI has also expanded its product offering by selling accuracy testing devices. While these were originally developed to monitor PSI’s own systems, the team discovered the devices had commercial applications.
PSI now holds patents for six inventions.
And, with an R&D budget of between $300,000 and $400,000 a year, PSI is also a private backer for UWA researchers putting up cash to help them secure Federal funding grants to continue R&D on various technologies.
UWA and PSI then collaborate on research work.
Mr Searls said manufacturing the technology in Western Australia could be difficult because of an “immature investment market”.
“There is a lack of infrastructure for this kind of thing from an investment point of view,” he said.
“People don’t understand what they’re looking at.”