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Optics inventor has eye for new technology

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Josh Reynolds Photo for The Boston Globe

Gregg Favolora of Optics for Hire in his office with the helium neon laser that sparked his interest in the field that eventually became his career.

As a techie kind of guy, Gregg Favalora is still experiencing the afterglow of attending the recent Computer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. He describes the show as a “manic crowd of 100,000 people looking at new electronic products of extraordinary quality and capability.” With a specialty in optics technology, Favalora was particularly interested in the display technologies. “I am excited about stereoscopic televisions that use high-quality passive eyewear, that is, polarized glasses that don’t need batteries,” said Favalora, a principal at Optics for Hire, an optics design consulting service that works with companies to provide electrical, mechanical and optic designs.

Favalora, 36, works in a crowded one-room office in Arlington, with two other Optics for Hire staffers, reviewing patents, writing proposals or on Skype, catching up on progress with the engineering teams in Belarus and Ukraine. But out of these cramped quarters comes optical magic: his role is to help customers invent complicated optical systems, everything from ophthalmology devices, to video game technology, to eco-friendly LED streetlights and automotive optics. “Our jobs are analogous to an architecture firm, in that clients come to us with complicated desires and our team of engineers create the “blueprints” or actual prototypes for them,” said Favalora. Optics for Hire creates the precise curves that describe a lens; software that detects objects, or electronics that read bar-codes. “We’ve been asked to make holographic televisions, award-winning video game technologies, and analyze optics patents,” said Favalora.

Favalora credits his family with providing the inspiration around optics. His grandfather collected antique optical instruments, such as beautiful brass microscopes and technical illustrations of camera lenses. His “Aha, I love 3D!” moment came in the summer of 1988 when he found a laser at home, which his dad was using to help level underground pipes for his construction company. “From that moment, through today, I’ve wondered how to create hologram-like images that look 3-D to the unaided eye.”

Q: What are some misconceptions that the public has about 3-D or holographics?

A: Many movies and TV shows depict “floating image” 3-D displays, from Bones to Star Wars. Except for some unusual cases, physics insists that there be a display somewhere along the line from your eye to all visible parts of the image. So can 3-D float above a table or in front of a wall? Yes, as long as you’re looking at something that light comes out of! One TV show that sports a real 3-D display is CSI: NY, which uses my company’s former product, Perspecta, as a prop in the autopsy lab. Problem is, they draw in the holograms in post-production, rather than just using it as a real 3-D display.

Q: What’s the latest in 3-D - and do you have 3-D in your own home?

A: Consumers are buying today’s generation of 3-D, called stereoscopic 3-D, which requires you to wear polarized glasses. We developed the next generation, called autostereoscopic 3-D, that doesn’t require glasses. We have clients who are quite interested in that next-gen 3-D technology. I don’t have a 3-D TV, but my kids have 3-D books and some lenticular 3-D posters around the house.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge with getting a patent?

A: I’m an inventor on nine U.S. patents and perhaps the biggest challenge in getting a patent is writing a first draft of the application for one’s attorneys – I’m a control freak. It also takes some patience and a significant budget to convince the patent examiners that your invention is indeed worthy of a patent.

Q: What else do you do, when you're not creating/working with optics?

A: What? I can’t hear you over this laser.

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Josh Reynolds Photo for The Boston Globe

Favoloraspends much of the time in his Arlington office working with engineers in Europe.


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