Iris scanners have been around for years, but the devices have never been widely adopted, partly because early iterations were difficult to use and prone to errors. Even The Simpsons Movie pokes fun at the technology by showing someone waving a mutated fish with dozens of eyes in front of a scanner, hoping for a match.

J. Elon ("Buzz") Graves, co-founder of AOptix, hopes that perception will change now that iris scanning technology is more advanced. Unlike the cartoon device, his company's InSight VM scanner can capture images from a distance of up to 6 feet. Users stand in a designated area and look at the screen. The scanner locates the irises and captures an image in about two seconds. Because each pair of eyes is unique, the images can be compared with pictures in a database to confirm a person's identity. The InSight is being used by big corporations, including Microsoft, and government agencies to control building access.

Before starting AOptix in Campbell, California, in 2000, Graves was a researcher at the University of Hawaii, where he worked on ways to minimize image degradation in astronomical instruments. A sci-fi fan who watched the TV show Mr. Wizard as a child, Graves dreams of building a telescope on the moon. "Many of the things we create are based on materials and ideas that exist around us," he says. "You just have to realize they are there and learn how to apply them."