Optical and Photonic Solutions Blog


How did LightTools come about?

Original LightTools logo

The product that became LightTools had its origins in the late 1980s. I was working with the Optical Research Associates Engineering Services group and had been involved with a number of projects, e.g. aircraft HUDs and large-scale laser systems, that required 3D optical modeling to verify function and packaging. At the time, this was challenging to achieve with CODE V and (2D) pen plotter graphics. Tom Walker had recently joined Optical Research Associates (ORA) from Rockwell where he had written a PC CAD/drafting package with several thousand internal users. This background was critical for planning and executing the development of an optical CAD package. Bruce Irving was an early adopter and advocate of Apple Macintosh computers and used the HyperCard program to prototype concepts for an interactive graphical optical design program. Finally, Darryl Gustafson, the VP of Sales and Marketing, encouraged and advocated for the development of this new product.

Mike Hayford, the late Darryl Gustafson, Tom Walker, and Bruce Irving
Mike Hayford, the late Darryl Gustafson, Tom Walker, and Bruce Irving

LightTools pioneered the use of 3D solid modeling for optical analysis, coupled with a ray trace engine that could accurately simulate the geometric propagation of light through the model. This was supported by an interactive 3D graphics user interface. LightTools debuted with “point-and-shoot” ray tracing that allowed the user to start a ray or rays anywhere in a model (even inside an object) and see how they TIR’d, split and scattered as they propagated through the model.

The ability to find light paths through complicated objects without user intervention made LightTools invaluable for analyzing and designing light guides, such as those used in automotive instrument clusters. LightTools’ ability to virtually model thousands or millions of microstructures made evaluation of display backlights feasible, and the Backlight Pattern Optimization utility developed by Bill Cassarly made design optimization of backlights a strength of LightTools.

As LEDs grew in importance as a light source, LightTools was enhanced to support key aspects needed for LED modeling. This included development of phosphor simulation, including mixtures of phosphors, and colorimetric analysis capabilities. Design of freeform surfaces to control the output beam patterns of LEDs and other sources was also introduced.

Many, many people have contributed to LightTools since its inception over 30 years ago. It is gratifying to see its acceptance by the optics industry. I look forward to seeing LightTools continue to grow and evolve to meet new needs of the optics industry.