Thinking about all the innovations constantly happening within photonics, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement. Solving problems with a new offering. Watching as industry embraces your innovation. The thrill of fulfilling the inventor’s dream. There’s no way around it, there is a bit of a high to it.
But having been intimately involved in developing innovative new products myself back in my manufacturing days, I know all too well that there is always an unavoidably healthy dose of discouragement, disappointment, and maddening frustration along the way. Even the best laid plans with seemingly perfect roadmaps are littered with annoying detours and sometimes impossible roadblocks. And sometimes it ends up just being a timing issue—even the most amazing innovation can struggle to achieve the traction anticipated if the market is not ready to embrace its awesomeness.
What got me thinking about this was a solid panel discussion at the Laser Focus World Executive Forum on directed energy. Remember the excitement around President Reagan’s strategic defense initiative nicknamed Star Wars introduced in 1983? It had a lot of lofty goals, requiring advanced technology that just didn’t exist at the time. There was a lot of money officially dumped into the program for roughly a decade. I can feel the pain the engineers and scientists experienced throughout the research and development of the various components.
At a quick glance, it may appear that we are no closer than we were at the program’s kickoff. But that could not be further from the truth. The people who have been in the trenches at government labs like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the many prime- and sub-contractors involved have been introducing innovation after innovation along the way. As a result, many of the core components needed to turn the Star Wars dream into a reality don’t just exist, the current offerings are amazingly advanced. Directed energy, uncrewed planes, and an array of optical sensor-based systems continue to achieve new milestones.
It’s great to have the goal at the end, but for innovators, that’s rarely the endgame. Goals are really just milestones and reminders to celebrate the successes along the way. At least in my experience, it’s the excitement of being able to address the problems you did not even know existed when you first embarked on the challenge. Overcoming the unknown.
Do you have an innovative achievement you’d like to celebrate—something others in the photonics community could benefit from? Reach out. I’d love to hear about it.