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CIA in Silicon Valley invests in -- shocker -- a tiny photo lens

Our Man in SV
The CIA's venture arm, In-Q-Tel, may have lost its lead Silicon Valley operator, Gilman Louie, but the group is still working away on deals here.

Gilman has since launched a venture capital firm, and has gone quiet for now.

But Ben Choi, one of the In-Q-Tel guys holding the fort here in Silicon Valley at the group's secret Menlo Park office, told us yesterday he's just made an investment into Rhevision Technology, which is making a miniature zoom lens for cameras. Its Website is still under construction, but the company says modestly that the lens module is "going to rock the entire camera-phone industry."

Rhevision is a spin-out of UCSD. EDF Ventures joined In-Q-Tel in the investment, but the amount was undisclosed.

We asked Choi whether he could slip us a photo of himself, so we'd have an idea what the In-Q-Tel agent looked like; he declined. We know he is an amateur photographer, so the deal makes sense.

The press release is in the extended entry below.

In-Q-Tel assures us this technology is out of the lab and very close to commercialization, unlike the insect eye we mentioned the other day (scroll down to second to last item) being developed at UC Berkeley.

San Diego, CA -- May 5, 2006 -- Rhevision Technology, Inc., developer of miniature tunable optical systems, announced today the completion of its first venture financing, led by EDF Ventures and joined by In-Q-Tel, the independent investment fund that identifies innovative technologies to support the mission of the Central Intelligence Community (CIA) and the larger Intelligence Community. The proceeds will be used to accelerate the development efforts for Rhevision's tunable lens systems that will revolutionize the world of mobile imaging.

Miniaturized cameras in cell phones and PDAs have quickly become an essential feature for those wanting to capture and store images anytime, anywhere. Experts estimate that 800 million camera phones will ship by 2007 and that consumers will snap 100 billion digital images a year.

"Soon, camera phones will have image sensors comparable to the quality of digital still cameras. What's lacking is the optical zoom and auto focus functions due to size, weight and cost limitations," says Rhevision's CEO, Tim Rueth. "Our optical zoom lenses will meet these market demands and offer auto-focus and 3x optical zoom while fitting in the small form factors of new cell phone designs. Our unique and proprietary approach will prove superior to competing approaches."

"Rhevision's miniature lens systems will tap into a highly-compelling consumer market and enable better camera phones," said Scott Yancey, Acting CEO of In-Q-Tel. "As a strategic venture investor, In-Q-Tel is pleased to be partnering with Rhevision and we are impressed with their promise of significant developments in mobile imaging that will present great value to both the commercial and the government sectors."

Beau Laskey, General Partner of EDF Ventures said, "We believe Rhevision has the right solution to a growing desire on the part of consumers to increasingly rely on a camera phone rather than carrying both a phone and a camera, and, to be able to generate high-quality images as well. The Rhevision product is designed for high reliability and low manufacturing cost."

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