Forget Electricity, The Future Is Photonic for This Calgary Startup

Luxmux is using smell-tech to detect everything from methane emissions to chemicals in the body.

Deep-space explorers have been using handheld sensors to analyze the atmosphere of faraway planets for decades… in science fiction, anyway.

But what was once the work of fantasy is now on the verge of becoming a reality, thanks to Luxmux, a Zone Startups Calgary company that offers analysis and computing at the speed of light—and in a smaller, more energy efficient package than ever before.

“It’s exactly like that idea of the tricorder,” says Daniel Feldman, vice-president with Luxmux Technology Corporation. “In Star Trek, they’re using light technology to instantly analyse things.”

The developing field of photonics

The field is called photonics, and Feldman says that with recent advances, it now has the potential to radically alter how many industries operate. Unlike electronics, which involves the manipulation of electrons (I.e. electricity), photonics works with photons, or light particles.

Named after two scientific terms—‘lux’, a unit of luminescence, and ‘mux’, a device combining digital and analog signals—the Calgary company has been able to miniaturize and patent technology that puts advanced spectroscopy (the discipline of using light to analyse the mass and structure of compounds) into a microchip.

This new development allows handheld devices “to essentially have a highly sensitive, perceptive nose,” Feldman says.

“It’s sort of like how a digital camera isn’t actually looking at an object, but it can emulate what we’re seeing,” Feldman explains. “In the same way, a spectrometer isn’t actually ‘smelling’ anything.” Instead, it uses light to sense on a molecular level the environment that surrounds us, and even inside our bodies.

A disruptive technology

Luxmux believes its technology could prove disruptive in many fields, including agriculture, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and environmental monitoring. By putting immediate and accurate chemical analysis in the hands of those working on site, companies will no longer have to wait for a lab to produce the same results.

While the company hopes to eventually make the technology ubiquitous for consumers, Luxmux technology is already generating revenue with firms in the oil and gas sector, as well as in medical imaging.

The company has two commercial products for industrial applications: the ‘Broad Spectrum Tunable Super Luminescent Diode light source’—or BeST-SLED, for short–and the ‘Compact Narrow linewidth Tunable Near Infrared Laser’ (the CNTNIL, pronounced ‘sentinel’). Both leverage the power of near-infrared light to provide a broad coverage of the spectrum that is unparalleled in terms of miniaturization and cost-effectiveness.

Partnering across sectors

Luxmux has been collaborating with a firm that services the energy industry in the oil sands to provide enhanced methane gas monitoring. “We’re part of the initiative to reduce methane by 45 per cent from 2012,” Feldman says. Luxmux’s accurate remote monitoring smart poles instantly relay live data to the Cloud, to be analysed from anywhere in the world.

Luxmux is also working with biomedical companies in Asia and Europe that use light to map the brain and eye. Using super-luminescence diode light, its technology is highly sensitive and able to penetrate skin, muscle and bone safely.

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Finding potential partners and customers is easier when they come to you, which is one of the advantages Luxmux enjoys from its office in Zone Startups Calgary, an accelerator program operated by Ryerson Futures in partnership with GE. “Through Zone Startups Calgary, Luxmux has opportunities to gain exposure and access to the global networks and opportunities at GE,” says Feldman.

Luxmux has yet to commercialize the technology for consumers, but with revenues from its ventures in other industries reinvested in research and development, the company aims to bring its core technology to the masses. “Our goal is to seamlessly integrate our technology into a variety of applications, to enable the world with instant analysis, and ultimately, to make it cost-effective enough that it can be put into everyone’s cell phone,” Feldman says.

Luxmux has been in conversations with a number of telecom firms, cell phone manufacturers, and other related tech companies. Although the ‘tricorder’ technology is still in its early days, Luxmux has big ambitions. “At some point down the road, we hope that everyone will have ability to assess what’s happening not just in their environment, but inside them too, in any capacity.”

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