Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch Richard Emmons stands with a new Paragon sign on Williams Highway. The 1,000-pound sign has 150-square-feet of display surface on each side and a radiance far beyond typical reader boards. - Jamie Lusch

New screen clears up an old problem

GRANTS PASS — Peter Poulsen knew he was on to something when he started messing with tiny shards of broken Christmas ornaments a decade ago.

It was perhaps an answer to a question posed by a fellow worker in the 1970s when he was a senior scientist a General Dynamics: How could a planetarium display both a bright star and a dull star in close proximity without the lesser light being washed out?

The answer, says the Grants Pass resident, was in the shards. And when it was all done, Poulsen had created a practical application — a new generation of versatile signage.

In a sort of prototype, Poulsen broke up a bunch of silver Christmas ornaments, glued the tiny reflective pieces on to a board, coated the surface and embedded four different images that could be seen when viewed from different angles. From there, Poulsen projected the possibility of doing the same thing on high-rise building walls or in shopping malls.

The key, however, was to find financial backing. So he broke his technology down to something palatable to investors.

The interim technology is something called a Paragon sign, capable of simultaneously projecting up to six video messages to specific targets — primarily drivers and pedestrians — giving it enormous potential as a new marketing vehicle.

A smaller beta version was planted on Seventh and Savage streets several months ago, but the first full-blown version of Poulsen's brainchild, manufactured by AccelerOptics of Carthage, Mo., is now ready for both primetime and daytime. A 1,000-pound Paragon sign with 150-square-feet of display surface on each side and a radiance far beyond typical LED reader boards has been switched on outside the newly opened 30,000-square-foot Guild Building at 1867 Williams Highway.

Poulsen, who holds a doctorate in applied sciences from Southeastern Institute of Technology in Huntsville, Ala., went beyond the ornament shards to the concept of millions of tiny reflective mirrors redirecting projected light.

"I needed an interim step people would understand," Poulsen says. "When you are talking projectors or projector systems, historically the weak link is generally the screen. When you're at a movie theater, you're looking at a screen that accepts light from all directions, even its own light is bouncing back.

"Screens are the next big step, there hasn't been anything really new in screens in a long, long time. People recognized this and said 'What can we do to improve it?'"

For his new technology, Poulsen relied on well-directed light hitting mirrors.

"Normally, if you take a screen or piece of paper and project an image on it, you can see it no matter where you are standing," Poulsen says. That's not necessarily a good thing.

"You're wasting energy because there is no one on the ceiling or side walls," Poulsen says. "If you are 45 degrees to the side, the image is distorted and you're sending light to where nobody cares. I want to gather up the light and send it to where you know the audience is going to be."

So when drivers roll past the sign they'll be getting the full thrust and resulting high resolution of whatever is programmed into the system.

Poulsen says light that goes every which way when it hits a typical screen is lost energy. Thus when sunlight hits screens, black images don't appear so dark and the picture loses clarity. Projectors don't normally do well outside before dark, and televisions and computer screens don't work in direct sunlight. However, when it is directed to a specific zone as with the Paragon, there is dynamic change.

The intensity of Paragon's projected light is turned down at night so it doesn't blind drivers. Just as important, it doesn't shine up into the night sky or through the windows of nearby homes.

"We don't want to send light there anyway," he says.

The idea is to project multiple pictures at the same time in particular areas, Poulsen says. Ultimately, the technology has many uses. A movie theater, for example could show subtitles, PG-13 and G rated versions of the same show simultaneously on the same screen, with each aspect only visible from a certain seating area.

"People in different parts of the theater would see different things but be watching the same movie," he says.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at

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