Innovega: Futuristic Vision is Here

As chief engineer of Microvision, a company that develops laser retina scan displays, Randy Sprague wrestled with the problem of creating a high quality near eye display system every day. When he quit Microvision to move outside the city, unconstrained by a corporate direction, Randy discovered his solution within a week. In our recent conversation, he told us, “One day, it occurred to me that instead of trying to make a better display, the solution lay in trying to make a better eye.” And thus, Innovega was born. Innovega, recently awarded a 2012 PopSci Invention Award, develops proprietary display technology that aims to enhance human vision, enabling us to superimpose information from our smartphones onto our visual reality. In short, Innovega is developing a competing product to Google’s recently demoed “Project Glass”. However, unlike other companies such as Google that are experimenting with improving the near eye displays themselves, Randy and his business partners, Stephen Willey and Jerry Legerton, are developing a product offering that uses both contact lenses and sleek eyewear similar to regular glasses to overcome the limitations of near eye human vision. iOptik™ contact lenses enable the human eye to see clearly at extremely short distances, and the glasses currently in development by Innovega, will serve as the display screen for information superimposed onto our existing field of vision. This is a novel solution to the bulky headgear options typically available for augmented reality.

Other than the obvious implications in 3D movies and gaming, the really exciting application of Innovega’s display technology lies in mobile augmented reality. Randy says, “Someday, you can use this to access information that you currently need to look up on your smartphone. You can superimpose augmented information onto the real world to get turn by turn navigation as you’re walking through New York City, for example, without having to use your cellphone.”

Their journey to commercial success has included funding support from NSF SBIR Phase I (in which they worked with Larta to develop a commercialization plan), IB and II grants as well as DARPA SBIR and Phoenix grants. The funding has already enabled them to develop a prototype with the contact lenses and an opaque screen that demonstrates the capabilities of the display technology. Now, they are developing a prototype that incorporates a see through display, for use in augmented reality applications. This will enable wearers to access rich media simultaneous to their real world activities. They are also currently exploring ways of linking cell phones to their display system through wireless HDMI connectivity, or by installing a chip in the head mounted display itself, and the user interface that would go along with that. Watch a demo of their augmented reality displays recently ordered by the Pentagon below.

The way forward for the company looks to be through strategic partnerships, such as with gaming companies or for defense use, where they can license out their proprietary display technology to be used in a number of different ways. Innovega is sure to be a player to watch in augmented reality.