Mark Spitzer - Fast 50 2003

PERFECT THE VISION THING

Tom Cruise wore them in Mission Impossible: a pair of glasses that displayed top-secret information in the lenses. Initially developed for the military, the vision behind Mark Spitzer's advanced eyewear is to allow users of DVD players, PDAs, and other electronic devices to see the displays through their glasses.

Mark Spitzer
CEO, The MicroOptical Corp.
Westwood, Massachusetts
http://wwww.microopticalcorp.com

FROM MARK'S ORIGINAL ENTRY:

Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
In the movie "Mission Impossible," Tom Cruise wore a pair of glasses that displayed top secret information in the lenses. MicroOptical, which I founded in 1995, builds advanced display eyewear to support a revolution in portable personal electronic devices, making this otherwise "impossible" concept of viewing electronics like DVDs, PDAs and cell phones in eyeglasses a reality. When I first started MicroOptical, miniaturization of LCDs and optics, to the level of integration in eyeglasses, was thought to be impossible because it required working with plastics that normally do not produce good images. The MicroOptical team solved this problem which now makes it possible to build computer monitors concealed in eyewear.

What was your moment of truth?
MicrOptical's systems were initially developed for the military under a DARPA grant. At this point, we were making a lens-based viewing system for a head-up display intended to look something like an eyeglass lens. This project was not entirely successful as it still used a metal lens tube, plates of glass and other framework, so we decided to reduce optical reflections by filling up the empty space in the tube with clear plastic with a matched index of refraction. It was then we realized that without the supporting tubes and other structures, the concept of making a pair of eyeglasses that would allow you to view electronic devices was real and that MicroOptical would lead the revolution of wearable eyeglass displays.

What were the results?
The first samples of solid eyeglass lenses that we made were not exactly inspiring; instead, they were full of optical problems. We went to various plastics suppliers to see if they could do better, but they told us it was "impossible." That was when we realized that if we could solve the technical issues, there would be a big technical barrier to entry. That inspired us to keep going and eventually we perfected our own process. Now we can make solid eyeglass lenses with internal optical components, and we have a strategic alliance with Essilor International to manufacture the lenses.

What's your parting tip?
Trust your own judgment; those who tell you "it's impossible" usually end up being wrong.

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