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Science: Second Sight

2 minute read

The heart of the gadget is a TV picture tube shrunk to the size of a small flashlight. But for the person who straps it on his head, the Hughes Aircraft Company’s “Electrocular” does a giant-sized job: it is as efficient as a pair of eyes in the back of the skull. A small, semi-transparent mirror projects in front of the wearer’s right eye, reflecting whatever picture the TV tube presents. So close to the eye is the image that it looms large and clear, but Hughes engineers insist that a user quickly learns to look right through the picture when he wants to, concentrating on the natural scene before his eyes.

TV-addicted schoolboys equipped with Electroculars could pore over their homework while one eye kept track of the good guys gunning down the bad guys. But few, if any kids will get the chance. Electrocular is meant for more serious sorts of second sight, in part because it will be so expensive: several thousand dollars for the complete outfit, including the camera.

The picture on its small-mirror screen will not ordinarily come from a TV studio but from a closed-circuit TV camera that may be peering at something near by, around the corner, or miles away. The captain of an aircraft carrier, for instance, could walk the bridge of his ship while simultaneously watching by Electrocular a below-decks chart recording the progress of a distant air battle.

Not all uses will be military. The mod ern world is alive with harried men who must make some sort of effort to watch two things at once. Airplane pilots coming in for a landing would be happy to keep their eyes on their instruments while still scanning the ground ahead. Electrocular, say Hughes engineers, will solve their problem. It will also help surgeons to go about their work even while they are watching instruments reporting the second-to-second condition of the patient’s heart and other vital organs.

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