Hong Hua, a UA associate professor of optical sciences, is developing a variety of wearable head-mounted display systems that could potentially have many real-world applications.

Think Google Glass — but with a bigger screen and more possibilities.

Hua first began developing these systems in the early 1990s while working on her doctorate at the Beijing Institute of Technology. She said that at that time she was pursuing technology for virtual reality.

Virtual reality is “trying to create a wearable display that is able to immerse a user into a computer-generated environment,” Hua said. “The idea is you want to simulate everything in a 3-D world.”

Hua has since moved away from virtual reality and is now pursuing augmented-reality technology for her systems.

Augmented reality combines the real and virtual worlds. Users are able to project high-definition computer-generated 3-D images onto the existing world so they can see both, Hua said.

She said her new technologies are somewhat comparable to Google’s wearable head-mounted display system.

She said, however, that “the goal of Google Glass and the goal of my research are quite different.”

Google Glass is sensitive to style, she said, while she is more concerned with information and display.

“Eventually the style will be an issue,” she said, “but I think from a research point of view, I want to push the boundary of the technology rather than the commercial aspects.”

One system Hua is developing will have medical applications. It will track the user’s eye movement as the user follows the display, she said.

It could aid patients with diseases that cause muscles to stop working, such as Parkinson’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, she said.

Patients with such diseases can eventually lose all control of their muscles.

The current system that tracks eye movement is basically a large computer box with an eye-tracking camera. She said her goal is to develop a system that will be lightweight and compact, fitting inside a pair of goggles.

Hua said she is also developing a system that could potentially be used as an image-guided-surgery tool.

The system would “display guidance information of where the needle should go for a biopsy, for example,” she said. “You can instantaneously get access to information that is not available while you are doing those types of procedures.”

A third system has military applications.

“The idea would be you can create a photo-realistic simulation for battlefields,” she said. “Those wearable displays are see-through so you can see the physical simulation environment plus the simulated soldiers and battlefield.”

She hasn’t abandoned entertainment uses and is working on an alternative solution to 3-D televisions for 3-D gaming.

“Instead of going to buy a 3-D TV that sits in your living room,” she said, “now you have a portable 3-D TV with you that you carry all the time.”

Although Hua has many goals for her systems, she said she is still nowhere close to finishing a product that can be commercialized.

First, she said, she needs to find a licensee who is interested in all the different aspects and applications of the systems.

She’d also like to find a solution to the eye fatigue caused by 3-D systems.

Ultimately, her goal is to develop an everyday product that users carry with them, like a smartphone.

She said she aims to “produce a display that is going to integrate phone functions and also display functions.” Instead of having a four-inch screen, however, Hua’s system will project the equivalent of a 40-inch screen in the user’s field of view.

The system will still be “lightweight and you can carry (it) with you and use it outside, inside and anytime you wish,” she said. “But we are quite far from there.”

Drew McCullough is a NASA Space Grant intern.