Spinoff is NASA’s annual publication featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology. This commercialization has contributed to the development of products and services in the fields of health and medicine, consumer goods, transportation, public safety, computer technology, and environmental resources.

The blue light scattered by air molecules creates a haze around mountainsides that interferes with human vision.

The human eye is particularly sensitive to blues and greens, which comprise the middle wavelengths of the visible electromagnetic spectrum. That sensitivity comes at the expense of peripheral hues, like red, when the two colors are seen simultaneously. The phenomenon, called center-loading sensitivity, can interfere with visibility in certain situations like spotting targets or judging distances.

In the early 1990s, Ames Research Center senior scientist Len Haslim investigated technology that would allow these peripheral hues to stand out for detecting camouflaged objects in forests and jungle environments. His method used an optical filter to cancel the green light reflected off the flora, and augment the non-green colors of the camouflaged objects. Seen through the lens, the plant’s green colors appear black or gray, while the other colors, now amplified, would stand out. Haslim also noticed that the optical filter enabled him to detect plant distress by noticing changes in chlorophyll content.

As an optical scientist and the owner of an aerial photography business, Robert Brock recognized the value of having a cost-efficient optical filter for several applications. In 1994, his company — Portland, OR-based Optical Sales Corporation (now NASTEK) — entered into a Space Act Agreement with Ames to commercialize the technology Haslim had developed. The firm performed the additional research and development needed to come out with its Plant Stress Detection glasses for assessing plant health, as well as a similarly functioning filter for use in digital, film, and video cameras for large-scale remote sensing activities. Golf course superintendents, crop managers, and foresters use the lens for early disease detection, and for troubleshooting watering problems, saving them money and resources.

NASTEK manufactures ski-goggle lenses that use NASA technology to optimize visibility on the slopes.

Now the company is using the same technology derived from NASA research to help skiers see terrain more clearly. For them, it’s not green, but rather blue that can be a hindrance. Blue light comprises wavelengths of the visible spectrum that are easily scattered by air molecules, which is why the sky appears that color. But this scattering also causes blue light waves to bleed into mountainsides and other land features, creating a haze that can be troublesome for skiers, especially on overcast days. To remedy that, NASTEK develops ski goggles that cancel out a significant amount of blue light. The company has teamed up with Wheat-ridge, CO-based Optic Nerve.

Optic Nerve’s rose-tinted spherical NASTEK lens ski goggles filter about 95 percent of blue light, which results in incredible definition of terrain in flat light as well as bright Sun conditions — an average increase of 12-15 percent in visual acuity and depth perception.

The lens is also versatile. Some ski goggles are designed for low to variable light conditions but are not ideal for bright conditions; they let in an intense amount of sunlight that can be uncomfortable on the eyes. For that reason, many skiers switch lenses depending on the weather. But the NASTEK lens handles low and bright incoming light equally well.

Besides the blue-light cancellation technology, other features include a design that prevents air gaps, and therefore fog, from forming in the goggles. Also, the high-grade polycarbonate lens is impact-resistant, and provides complete protection from ultraviolet A, B, and C radiation.

To create a reflective surface, many lens makers apply a thin titanium coating to the outside of the lens, where scratching is common. NASTEK applies the reflective coating to the inside of the lens instead. NASTEK manufactures lenses for some of the biggest eyewear companies, but Optic Nerve was the first North American company it teamed with to incorporate the blue-light-canceling technology.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2017 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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