Bill Harvey: Technology for the benefit of all
Author: Bill Harvey
Many years ago, a national newspaper ran a story describing how scientists working for a major car manufacturer had managed to design windscreens capable of correcting a driver’s refractive error, so doing away with the need to wear specs for driving. The story garnered enough publicity for a well-known authority on lenses to write a piece on it in this very publication. The story, however, turned out to be an April fool.
I was reminded of the story when, earlier this week, the electric car giant Tesla announced their driverless cars will include viewing devices capable of seeing around corners. Though still at an early trial stage, the devices comprise a laser and a photon detector which complement radar and GPS information to allow detection of reflective surfaces even if out of visual field. I checked – the report in the latest issue of Nature is not an April fool.
Such developments must have implications for the world of optics. I know of several visually impaired people who are excited about the prospect of driverless cars, and with four US states already having passed legislation to allow their operation, it is just a matter of time before we see them roll out.
I remember a similar enthusiasm when Google Glass was first announced. The ability to provide an electronic display within the sighted field of images from areas of field loss, or to display magnified and audio supported images upon fixation follows on from the excellent work of pioneers such as Eli Peli and his prism lenses.
Sadly, the technology was withdrawn in 2014, though a Google Glass Enterprise edition was released last year to specific companies, such as Boeing, and has been used in medical research, such as for helping autistic spectrum children negotiate the world.
There are some amazing technologies in the pipeline. Let us hope their application embraces helping people as well as profiting from them.