Allan Evans had an idea to project images directly onto the eye to mimic the way the eye naturally sees while he was working as an electrical engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
Today he's working with a company he cofounded to bring that idea to the market as a mobile, personal theater system worn on the head.
It can take media, such as a movie downloaded onto an iPhone, and make it look on the headset as if the viewer is seeing a crisp, high-definition image on an 80-inch screen 8 feet away, according to Avegant, the company he cofounded in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Techies are taking notice.
A prototype called Glyph shown at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January earned the Editor's Choice Award.
Avegant followed that up with a Kickstarter Internet crowd-funding campaign, offering incentives for pledges of money. As of Friday, eight days into the campaign, it had raised $880,000 from almost 2,000 backers, easily surpassing a goal of $250,000. People who pledge at least $499 are offered a pre-market version of Glyph at the end of this year.
Evans worked on the technology in 2011 and 2012 at PNNL in a project that started as a way to improve the sight of soldiers on dark battlefields without creating eye strain.
With a background in medical devices, he started thinking about how people see and tried to copy that, working with PNNL scientist Bruce Bernacki, an optics expert.
"All we tried to do is create light the same way that it goes into your eye," Evans said.
They came up with a prototype virtual retina display that needed a lab bench to hold it, and then shrunk it down to a set of goggles called Real Vision.
The headset, both in the Real Vision and Glyph version, works like a miniature projector, using a micromirror device to reflect light onto the eye's retina. It effectively uses the back of the eyeball as a screen, according to Avegant.
PNNL says the result looks more natural than a screen and eye strain is reduced because the retinal display takes advantage of the eye's lens in a relaxed state.
Thursday, the Federal Laboratory Consortium announced that the Department of Energy national lab had received a 2014 Excellence in Technology Transfer award for the technology.
Avegant is developing the technology as a media system, complete with headphones, that can plug into any device with an HDMI source to watch video or play video games, including in 3-D.
But the technology also continues to have possible applications for soldiers navigating at night, invasive surgery, training and virtual reality, according to PNNL.
For information about Avegant's Glyph, a demonstration in Seattle on Feb. 13 and a link to the Kickstarter campaign, go to www.avegant.com.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews