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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pixels Painted on the Mind's Eye

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida -- A soldier looks up from his foxhole, scans the terrain with his naked eye and immediately sees hidden land mines, artillery and even troops behind walls.

A doctor looks down at her patient and sees not only the body but a detailed outline of the organs and vessels beneath the skin and knows exactly where to begin the procedure.

This Superman-like vision, which does away with video monitors by beaming information from a transmitting device onto the eye, could soon become a reality with work funded by Microvision Inc. of Seattle. The transmitting device could be small enough to be hand-held.

Microvision has been developing a technology called virtual retinal display, which creates a virtual video screen for viewers by scanning an image directly onto the retina with a beam of light.

Developed by the University of Washington's Human Interface Technology Laboratory, the laser beam paints rows of pixels onto the eye. The viewer sees the information, or picture, as if a full-color screen were hanging in the air just in front of him.

"That's the utter simplicity of it, and that is the beauty of it," said Richard Rutkowski, president of Microvision, which demonstrated the technology with a prototype at a recent conference in Lake Buena Vista, sponsored by the Gartner Group.

Microvision is backed by several "high-net-worth individuals" in the Seattle area, according to Microvision vice president Todd McIntyre. The company went public Aug. 27 and raised a further $16 million.

Although commercial products are not expected until 1998, the company believes it is well capitalized. "The funding we now have is going to carry us for some time," said McIntyre.

Rutkowski said the concept of "augmented vision" could be popular in the military, medical and industrial fields, where information could be superimposed over the regular vision to provide intricate details.

The U.S. Army has been keen to find ways to deliver its storehouse of information gathered from satellites and the like to a soldier in the field. Conventional devices such as laptop computers have not proven practical, but the idea of using visual retinal display has been gaining interest among military personnel, company officials said.

In the consumer field, one application would be to use the technology with the cellular phone. Instead of just talking and listening to voice-mail messages, the phone could be equipped with a small opening to beam up information to allow an image of electronic mail or even access to the Internet.