By Andrew Karp
Imagine an electronic eyeglass lens or goggle that the wearer could tune to adjust gradations of lightness, darkness and color. That's one of the applications that the management of Alphachromics has in mind as it works to commercialize its proprietary, low-cost technology for changing the light transmittance properties of a substrate by the application of voltage and/or current.
A spin-off of the University of Connecticut, Alphachromics was formed in 2010 by UConn Ventures to commercialize the electrochromic innovations developed in the lab of Greg Sotzing, a professor of organic and polymer chemistry at the university. Based in Farmington, Conn., the company has assembled a portfolio of 25 patents and patent applications. It is currently in the prototype stage, and plans to commercialize its technology within the next two years. Other possible consumer and military applications include energy efficient windows and high performance, switchable fabrics.
"We're experts in the chemistry. It's not our objective to be making lenses or finished eyewear," Alphachromics CEO Rob DaPra told Eye2. DaPra, a veteran executive who formerly served as vice president strategic planning, business development and alliances for Proctor & Gamble, added, "We want to be the supplier to companies that want to bring disruptive technology to consumers or the military."
Mike Invernale, Alphachromics' director of product development, described the company's technology as a "goop" that is sandwiched between two layers of glass, plastic or another substrate that is connected to electrodes on both sides. A lens made with this method could be adjusted by the wearer to any gradation of light or dark, or be "color tuned" so the wearer can stop anywhere in the color spectrum. "That could be useful for a hunter, for example, who might want a lens that changes from yellow to orange."
The University of Connecticut retains close ties to Alphachromics. It recently named Alphachromics as the "Top UConn Start-Up Company" at annual awards ceremonies attended by top business leaders from around the state and academic leadership from UConn.
"This is a great technology, with a ton of potential," said Mark Bertolami, executive chairman of Alphachromics. "We've made tremendous progress over the past year in working to commercialize the technology. As an early stage start‐up, the access to resources and terrific support that we've received from UConn Ventures and the University has been absolutely essential to our success."
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