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Pentagon eyes augmented reality displays

DARPA orders prototypes of Innovega's iOptik displays that use special contact lenses so a person can focus both on images shown on the lenses and far-away objects for augmented reality.

Startup Innovega will supply augmented-reality contact lenses and glasses to DARPA.
Startup Innovega will supply augmented-reality contact lenses and glasses to DARPA.

The Defense Department has reportedly ordered augmented-reality displays from startup Innovega, only a week after Google disclosed its own augmented-reality project.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Innovega has signed a contract to supply the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with a prototype of its iOptik spectacles and accompanying contact lenses, Innovega's CEO Steve Willey told the BBC. The augmented-reality system could improve the awareness of soldiers in the field, he said.


The contact lenses have a filter that allows a person to focus on images at a very close distance and focus on far-away objects at the same time. That means people can see both images projected on the inside of the spectacle's lenses and whatever is in front of them. The contact lens-based system also provides a wider field of view than other heads-up displays, according to Innovega.

The augmented-reality system could be used for immersive games or to have mobile 3-D television, since it could show two separate images on both lenses.

In the military, it could be used for simulation and training, covert operations, or to perhaps show images from remote drones to a soldier in the field.

The company's business plan is to license its technology to different display and contact lens manufacturers, Chief Technology Officer Randall Sprague said at CES last year.

DARPA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google's Project Glass, a set of augmented-reality glasses, caused a stir last week when the company showed designs for the wrap-around glasses equipped with a small lens for displaying images. A demonstration video showed a person wearing the lenses to use location-based services and communicate with friends, but pundits expect it to take a couple of years before any product would be released.

Innovega's lenses are going through the FDA approval process, but Willey told the BBC that he expected the technology will be available by the end of 2014.