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Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology | September 22, 2006
Friendly-fire technology earns federal research grant

With the help of a $100,000 federal grant, a Watertown-based company and Boston University will partner to develop technology to prevent friendly fire accidents on the battlefield.

Boston Micromachines Corp. reports it has won a Phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grant from the U.S. Army.

The company manufactures microelectromechanical (MEMS) mirrors for laser surgery, retinal imaging and to help NASA scientists search for planets in other solar systems.

The project's goal is to manufacture matchbox-sized mirrors for soldier's helmets. Laser-scoping weapons would detect the mirrors and send a signal back to the shooter, identifying the soldier as a friendly, said Paul Bierden, president and CEO of Boston Micromachines.

"We think this has an immediate application," said Bierden.

The mirrors would have a range from hundreds of meters to 2 kilometers to 5 kilometers. The devices are designed for soldier-to-soldier contact on land and aircraft recognition of soldiers from the air.

STTR grants, similar to Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, are federally funded. The Phase 1 stages of both grants are worth up to $100,000. Phase 2 grants are worth up to $750,000. However, STTR grants require an academic research partnership.

Alan J. Macdonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Defense Technology Initiative, said research grants have been essential to the growth of some emerging technology companies such as Waltham-based Foster Miller Inc., which was bought by U.K.-based QinetiQ Ltd in 2004.

"There is a mutual benefit in developing war-fighting and life-saving technologies. There is tremendous business potential in these technologies for Massachusetts firms," said Macdonald.

Boston Micromachines has received eight Phase 1 and four Phase 2 SBIR and STTR grants, totaling $3.5 million. It received its first federal research funding in 1999, the year the company was founded. The company employs 10 and reports annual revenue of "under $10 million."

"The commercialization of this could move a lot faster than other STTR or SBIR grants we've received," said Bierden.

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