Although many optical-quality glass materials are available for use in optical systems, the range of polymeric materials is limited. Polymeric materials have some advantages over glass when it comes to large-scale manufacturing and production. In smaller scale systems, they offer a reduction in weight when compared to glass counterparts. This is especially important when designing optical systems meant to be carried by hand. We aimed to expand the availability of polymeric materials by exploring both crown-like and flint-like polymers. In addition, rapid and facile production was also a goal. By using UV-cured thiolene-based polymers, we were able to produce optical materials within seconds. This enabled the rapid screening of a variety of polymers from which we down-selected to produce optical flats and lenses. We will discuss problems with production and mitigation strategies in using UV-cured polymers for optical components. Using UV-cured polymers present a different set of problems than traditional injection-molded polymers, and these issues are discussed in detail. Using these produced optics, we integrated them into a modified direct view optical system, with the end goal being the development of drop-in replacements for glass components. This optical production strategy shows promise for use in lab-scale systems, where low-cost methods and flexibility are of paramount importance.
This work demonstrates the use of adaptive polymer lenses (APLs) for short-wavelength infrared (SWIR) applications. First, we present a push-button adaptive optical zoom system for variable magnification with a SWIR focal plane array. We then present a push-button, variable divergence, SWIR laser system for pointing and illumination. Last, we outline a system that combines the two: an SWIR adaptive zoom coupled with an APL-enhanced designator/illuminator. The result would allow a user to toggle between different fields of view (magnification), while optimizing illumination (beam divergence) for each field of view. This could be critical for situational awareness and target identification/designation in tactical applications.