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Infant Technology Is More Than a Gleam in Its Developer's Eye

Photonics Spectra
Feb 1997
Kathleen G. Tatterson

SEATTLE -- If a photonics technology firm here has its way, soldiers, surgeons and video game fans will analyze their respective real or virtual environments in a whole new light. With a technique called virtual retinal display, computer users could receive digital visual information without the benefit -- or burden, according to the system's developers -- of a computer screen.
The system uses a laser or other light source to draw images directly onto the viewer's retina. "The system creates a display by leveraging the way the eye perceives light," explained Todd McIntyre, vice president of business development for Microvision Inc.
Refractive and reflective optical elements direct the light into the eye, projecting an image through the pupil onto the retina. A scanner arranges pixels in a raster pattern onto the retina, and with the aid of light eyewear, the viewer sees the image as if it were an arm's length away.
Using the technology's augmented or "see-through" vision applications, surgeons could use the system to view data that is, in effect, superimposed on their view of the patient.
For users who are leery about the idea of having light beams shot into their eyes, McIntyre reassured that the levels coming from the light sources are in the nanowatt range -- less than a bank of lights in an average office and not enough to create an "after image" in the eye after extended use.
McIntyre speculates that products using virtual retinal display will hit the market by the third quarter of 1998.
However, it will probably be another five years before video-arcade patrons are going head-to-head with aliens or killer ninjas by meeting them eye-to-eye.

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