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Circle Optics could be Rochester’s next imaging tech champion

Circle Optics could be Rochester’s next imaging tech champion

Niazi and Gauger testing Circle Optics' Hydra camera on the roof at Sibley Square.
Zakariya Niazi (left) and Ian Gauger (right) test Circle Optics’ Hydra camera on the roof at Sibley Square. (Photo provided)

Circle Optics had a break-out year in 2022 as the Rochester firm hit a revenue milestone, added employees and made strides on product developments for new and expanded markets.

Circle Optics CEO Zakariya Niazi, a graduate of the University of Rochester’s optical engineering Bachelor of Science program, started Circle Optics — a certified B Corp. — about five years ago.

Hydra, the first seamless, 360-degree multi-camera system.
Hydra, the first seamless, 360-degree multi-camera system. (Photo provided)

The company builds systems that enable situational awareness for aerospace, autonomous and entertainment applications. Its initial product is Hydra, the first seamless, 360-degree multi-camera system.

Niazi said the Circle Optics team is well versed in building complex imaging systems, noting many are industry veterans with past careers at companies such as Kodak and L3Harris.

“The innate curiosity of our team drives us to advance the boundaries of imaging technologies,” Niazi said, adding he believes technology has the power to enhance and further the human experience for the better.

The firm’s technology is designed to accelerate the delivery of lifesaving resources, ensure aerospace safety, enhance surveillance capabilities for protection and increase immersive experience participation.

Since its inception Circle Optics has secured contracts valued at some $3.7 million, has a dozen patents awarded or pending and was named a winner of Pepperdine’s most fundable companies in 2022, as well as GENIUS NY 2021 and Luminate 2019.

The company surpassed $1 million in gross revenue for the first time in 2022.

It has also grown its workforce, adding four employees last year. Circle Optics has roughly 15 employees, as well as interns and consultants.

Because of the growth, the firm moved into a larger space at Sibley Square in August, which is twice the size of its previous office there. The company also has office space in Syracuse.

Circle Optics is currently progressing on work initiated with NASA on sensor fits for its Detect & Avoid program, enabling both uncrewed and human-piloted flight safety.

Zak Niazi of Circle Optics

Partnerships with NASA, the Space Force and the Air Force show there is a greater need for advanced panoramic vision in fields like robotics to enable safer autonomy and in the aerospace industry to maintain safe skies and borders, Niazi explained.

Plans this year include releasing Hydra 2 and delivering advanced prototypes for two of its government contracts.

The first is a camera with a high-resolution telescope array that eliminates the tunnel-like field of view typically associated with high-resolution telescopes that see things extremely far away.

The second prototype will deliver situational consciousness to small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to enable them to accurately fly beyond line of site with a better understanding of threats in their surroundings.

In December, the business kicked off a community funding round to help accelerate its UAV system deployment.

In addition to organic growth, the company is also finding opportunities through collaboration.

Last year, Circle Optics signed a memorandum of understanding with UK-based Archangel Imaging to move forward with its beyond visual line of site product development.

Archangel, which was the $1 million winner of GENIUS NY cohort 6 business accelerator competition, designs the navigation software the Circle Optics’ team plans to pair with its advanced hardware platform.

Circle Optics is also in discussions with a drone manufacturer for a potential partnership.

Ian Gauger of Circle Optics

Ian Gauger, Circle Optics’ chief operating officer, said the business plans to build on the success of last year in 2023 by continuing to expand its product offerings and grow its team.

Gauger — who previously worked as an architect — met Niazi when the two attended UR and reconnected when Niazi approached him about working at Circle Optics. He joined the company four years ago.

Rochester is a good location for the company given its affordability and proximity to customers and partners, Gauger said, adding there is an abundance of homegrown talent and a focus on building companies here.

“Rochester is looking for that next champion,” he said.

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