SlideOScope invention offers 'interactive' way to look at pictures
URBANA — Optical scientist Donald Barnhart has come up with a novel way of viewing your favorite photos, with a device that resembles a kaleidoscope.
His invention is called a SlideOScope. By sliding apart the instrument's two cylindrical tubes, you can see one of your photos morph into a second photo, and then to a third, fourth and fifth.
"It's a new paradigm for photos, but it's not a replacement for the photo album," said Barnhart, 49, of Urbana, who has spent two years working on the project.
Barnhart expects to launch a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter website this week to raise $30,000 for factory startup costs. During the monthlong campaign, folks who like his idea can help underwrite the project and place advance orders for SlideOScopes.
The inventor sees markets for the device in museum gift shops, promotional campaigns and education. Plus, some people may want to put a SlideOScope on their coffee table to share special images with visitors.
One of Barnhart's favorite sequences is a set of images that moves from a nature scene to a view of the Earth to images of the moon and galaxy.
"It's a great reminder of how small we are and our place in the world," he said.
Though the SlideOScope is generally limited to five images at a time, viewers can adapt an unlimited number of images for use in the instrument, in sets of five.
To be viewed in the device, five images are distorted and printed next to each other in five horizontal strips on a sheet of paper. The paper is then inserted into the tube, and as the tube is turned and the images are reflected in the SlideOScope's conical mirror, the images becomes undistorted.
"It's an interactive experience," Barnhart said. "It's different from still images or those on an iPhone. It almost feels like it's breathing."
The paper is interchangeable so the user can have several sheets, each with a set of images that produce a different experience. Users will be able to print their own images with the help of online tools, or they can order a printed insert from Barnhart's company, Anamorpix.
Barnhart has thought of many instances where someone could benefit from having a SlideOScope.
"A soldier overseas could pull out a SlideOScope, look at family pictures, look at his house and where he likes to play golf," Barnhart said.
Wedding couples could put photos of their "most spectacular moments together" and place SlideOScopes on tables at their wedding reception to share the images with guests, he added.
Plus, the images needn't be photos per se. You could put together five images of your children's artwork and watch each morph into the next with a slide of the tube.
During the Kickstarter campaign, advance orders for basic SlideOScopes can be placed for as little as $50. Customers can order SlideOScopes with solid wooden sleeves for $199 and get a "high-performance" version for $299. Lower-end versions are made of cardboard and plastic, while higher-end models are composed of wood and metal.
Products are expected to be ready for shipping in September or October. Components come predominantly from the Midwest, with Ogden-based ShapeMaster doing some of the work, Barnhart said.
Barnhart worked as lead optical engineer for iCyt (now Sony Biotechnology) in Champaign for eight years. Most of his career, he said, was spent building very expensive optics, often working with million-dollar equipment.
"I wanted to build inexpensive, accessible technology that people could use," he said. "Now that dream has come true."
For more information on the SlideOScope, see Barnhart's company website: anamorpix.com.
The Barnhart file
Name: Donald Barnhart
Education: Philo Grade School, Unity Junior High in Tolono and University High School in Urbana, graduating in 1982.
Higher education: Started at Bradley University and transferred to University of Illinois, receiving bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1987, followed by a master's degree in same field. Doctoral degree in optical engineering from Loughborough University in United Kingdom.
Career: Worked for iCyt (now Sony Biotechnology) as lead optical engineer until 2012.
Business: Anamorpix is the name of the company developing the SlideOScope. Barnhart is no stranger to business, having developed optical design and analysis software known as Optica and having once had a holography business called Holoflex.
Family: Barnhart and his wife, Tei, have two children: Claire, 10, and Alan, 8. Tei works in quality assurance at Wolfram Research. Wolfram Research helped shoot the SlideOScope video for the Kickstarter campaign.
Other interests: Prairie restoration work. Barnhart used the carriage house of his grandfather's farmhouse south of Urbana to develop the SlideOScope. It's the same venue he once used for producing holograms, two-dimensional images that look amazingly three-dimensional. Now 110 acres of that farm are planted in prairie, and 80 of those acres have been declared an Illinois nature preserve.