From Conjecture to Consumer at Warp Speed: Emerging Optical Technologies

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NEW YORK—Lately, emerging optical technologies seem to be coming right out of science fiction. Augmented reality, head’s up displays that project data into the wearer’s field of vision are reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Terminator, and eye-tracking capabilities that detect viewers’ interests, almost reading their thoughts, could be right out of Minority Report. These are just a couple of examples of the optical advances going from cognition to creation as if they were produced using 3D printing technology.

The reality that these and other technologies are going from science fiction to science fact more and more is illustrated by their increasing presence in Vision Monday’s own reports and presentations. For example, Google’s Project Glass augmented reality glasses were soon followed by Olympus Corp.’s MEG4.0 “ultra-compact wearable display” and Apple’s U.S. patent covering “ peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays.”

In addition, an entire session during Vision Monday’s 2012 Summit (see "‘Innovation and the Eye’ Moves From Science Fiction to Science Fact") featured four new and very different technologies that are extending the capabilities of the human visual system and expanding our concept of eyecare. They consisted of mobile phone apps that test for visual acuity and cataracts, high-definition video eyewear enabled through contact lenses, an artificial retina and eye scanning technology. ( Click here to view the “Science Fact” portion of Vision Monday’s 2012 Summit.)

Now, Zenni Optical (yes, the same Zenni that sells inexpensive eyeglasses online) produced a graphical representation of some of these cutting-edge optical technologies. While the depiction goes back over 1,000 years to the invention of the “reading stone,” the primary focus of the piece is on much of the “Emerging Optical Technology” recently reported by Vision Monday. With these groundbreaking technologies being introduced with increasing regularity and quickly going mainstream, it’s just a matter of time before the next emerging optical technology surprises us all.