Retinal Scanning – Reversed!
By Brenda Cooper, 2004
By now, most of us have heard about retinal scanning used as a security device – where your retina is scanned, a digital copy kept, and each time you want access to a building or service, you present your eye for verification. I’ve heard talk about using this for ATM machines, for example. I know of people whose workplaces use this kind of retinal scanning.
Graphic courtesy of Microvision.
Well, I attend science and science fiction conventions, and the most wonderful technologies turn up there from time to time. At Viking Con 17, in Bellingham, Washington, I met Dr. Thor Osborn from Microvision. He presented a retinal scanning technology that paints the contents of a monitor onto your eye. No kidding. Look Ma – no monitor!
Now, it still takes a kind of nasty virtual-reality type headset – not too heavy, but I wouldn’t wear it as a fashion statement. I would wear it for a lot of other reasons:
- An image can be superimposed on the real background that I’m seeing; the image is see-through. For example, a brain surgeon can have medical imaging results displayed so they appear to him or her to be hanging in the air above the patient. No turning the head to look at a picture on a wall. Better accuracy when finding, say, a brain tumor. Same idea applies to pilots and instrument displays.
- The images can be more colorful and higher resolution than even a flat panel display.
- Retinal scanning works in a wider range of light. I can us it on a bright sunny day outside, even while I’m looking towards the sun.
- I can take “online help” everywhere. Someday maybe I can display the appropriate page of a Chilton’s car repair manual while I’m bending over my engine looking for a bolt.
- It’s safe, and very low power.
- Business, military, and healthcare uses aside, there are some great gaming and entertainment possibilities. The display looks big!
Retinal scanning is still an expensive technology, and its current applications are almost all high-dollar customers in healthcare and in the military. But it looks and feels like a technology subject to all of the economies of scale we enjoy with microchips and computing. If it turns out to become popular, it may be very inexpensive.
If you think about it, the two things that keep portable computers so big are the displays and keyboard. Voice recognition is almost usable these days (Try the most recent version of Dragon Naturally Speaking – it’s cool!) and this gives us one option for doing away with the monitor. I like it.
Microvision – Do visit, they have a beautiful site with lots of technical information.