EyesOn Design car show is driving force behind artificial vision

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 14, 2017

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Sure, EyesOn Design has been ranked by USA Today as the fourth-finest car show in the country, and the top one in Michigan.

But more important than all of those beautiful vehicles — which are displayed for the public every Father’s Day on the landscaped grounds of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House — is the reason the show was started 30 years ago. EyesOn Design has raised millions for the Grosse Pointe Park-based nonprofit Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology — the research arm of Henry Ford Health System and a provider of programs, devices and services for the blind and visually impaired of southeastern Michigan.

The DIO also organizes two leading world research congresses that study artificial vision and the connection among the eye, the brain and the automobile; these congresses are each held biennially.

Dr. Philip Hessburg is an EyesOn Design Committee member and medical director of the DIO, as well as a senior staff member with Henry Ford Health System’s Department of Ophthalmology. Over the last 30 years, Hessburg said, EyesOn Design has raised in excess of $4 million.

“It has enabled the DIO to survive and to play a very significant role in its programs in support of the visually impaired,” he said in an email interview. “These include support groups for the blind and visually impaired, educational programs for ophthalmic tech programs and the general public, and world research congresses of several types.”

This year, the 30th annual EyesOn Design is once again expected to draw 5,000 or more visitors to the Ford House to see almost 300 vehicles, all there by invitation, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 18. The show is held rain or shine, and tickets cost $25 and will be available at the gate; children ages 12 and younger will be admitted for free with an adult. A brunch will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; reservations for brunch must be made by the end of the business day June 16.

“This is a world-class car show,” said Kathy Lightbody, now in her third year as chair of EyesOn Design, an event for which she’s been volunteering for about the last 16 years.

She notes that EyesOn Design is “not strictly classics.” Cars considered worthy by virtue of their design elements are happily included. This year, Lightbody said, that means some award-winning concept cars from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. In addition, she said there will be “vintage concept cars” from 1933 to 1954 in a display called “Visions of Future Past.”

One of the exciting aspects of EyesOn Design for automotive buffs and novices alike is the presence of so many designers. Lightbody said an average of 50 to 60 current and retired designers attend each year, and the public “can talk to them” and learn more about specific vehicles and what makes them special.

In honor of the Michigan State Police’s centennial, Lightbody said, there will be a special display devoted to their vehicles. Other highlights include a display dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the pony car; farm vehicle designs from 1937 to 1975; a collection of the tiny Crosley cars; convertible coupes from the 1930s; and classic British motorcycles.

There will be a children’s tent and a memorabilia tent with posters and other automotive gifts, and for those who don’t know much about cars, Lightbody said Steve Pasteiner’s informative annual awards presentation at 1:30 p.m. June 18 is a great primer.

This year, Lightbody said, they’ve added 12 “junior judges” — high school and college students — who’ll each be judging a category of vehicle with the help of a docent.

“We really see the educational piece as important,” she said. “We want to help bridge the gap between the student judges and the senior judges.”

In partnership with Lawrence Technological Institute and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Lightbody said they launched an international design competition this year in which students were challenged to design a Dodge 30 years in the future. The top three entrants and their families are being brought to the black-tie gala, and the winner is being offered a $50,000 scholarship to LTU, she said.

Folks can get their weekend started with a rare chance to see the private collection of Ken and Kristen Lingenfelter, who’ll open the doors to their facility — which houses more than 200 Corvettes, muscle cars and exotics — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 17. The suggested donation is $15 at the door. The collection is located at 7819 Lochlin Drive in Brighton. Lightbody said the Lingenfelters own “one of the top-rated collections in the world” and they are “incredibly generous supporters of us.” The Lingenfelters and their staff will be on hand to answer questions, and visitors will be able to “get up close” to these vehicles, she said.

“We are proud to be part of such a renowned event,” Ken Lingenfelter said in a prepared statement. “This show has always been one of the highlights of our year, and we are very pleased to bring additional attention to the exhibition and increase donations to the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology by opening the doors to our collection.”

Originally called Eyes On the Classics, Hessburg said EyesOn Design was founded by Al Ricca, a local contractor who was a member of the DIO Board of Directors. Richard Ruzzin, of Grosse Pointe Park, who had been a car designer with General Motors, suggested the focus on design.

Hessburg sees the show continuing to grow and thrive.

“In the next 30 years, EyesOn Design will continue to improve from year to year as the level of sophistication of our volunteer leaders in show management is enhanced by broader experience among the country’s top exhibits,” he said by email. “Further, as the Michigan design community comes to realize that this is ‘our show,’ we expect an increasing interest in participation by the seven Michigan design schools and their graduates, as well as by the many corporate and independent design studios. I believe what will remain a constant over the next 30 years is that the exhibit will continue to be the only U.S. show uniquely focusing on vehicle design, rather than on provenance, vehicle ownership, restoration perfection, rarity, etc.”

He sees tremendous advances coming in artificial vision as well. Lightbody said the international congresses have brought researchers from all over the world together to exchange ideas and work “on solutions” for those who can’t see. Before these congresses, most of these researchers had never met, but now, many of them are collaborating and making strides that otherwise wouldn’t have been imaginable.

Hessburg said the congresses have been going on for the last 20 years.

“We are now the world’s collegial center relative to the efforts to give some level of useful vision to many persons now blind with a nano-electronic device within the eye or the brain,” he wrote in an email. “At the start of this congress, which we call ‘The Eye and The Chip,’ we could have put the half dozen initiatives around the world in a small conference room. Today, worldwide, there are over 30 strong academic programs working on the challenges such innovative devices present.

“Our expectations at the start of the congresses on artificial vision were that if scientists, especially in Australia and Germany, could give an impressive level of artificial hearing to the profoundly deaf with a cochlear implant, there might be hope for a device to aid the blind as well,” Hessburg continued. “The reality is that there are now two devices available, one here in the United States and another in Europe which, although rather embryonic, are certainly proof of concept, and that as we understand both nano-electronics and neurobiology a bit better, should allow the development of much more sophisticated devices with considerably improved resolution of the image acquired by the various systems.”

Hessburg has reason to be hopeful about the next 30 years.

“I expect to see marked increase in the sophistication of available implantable devices for the blind,” Hessburg said. “I also expect to see very significant developments for the blind coming from stem cell research, gene editing or gene therapy. I wish I were just beginning my career in ophthalmology, as I believe the future is exceedingly bright for this specialty.”

The EyesOn Design weekend will start with the Vision Honored black-tie gala and silent auction from 6:30 to 11 p.m. June 16 at The War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Farms. Tickets cost $175 per person. This year, visual futurist Syd Mead — probably best known for creating the world of the film “Blade Runner” — will be honored with the Lifetime Design Achievement Award. Mead also designed this year’s EyesOn Design commemorative poster, imagining cars 30 years in the future for it. Mead will be signing posters at EyesOn Design from 1 to 1:30 p.m.

So, instead of getting Dad another tie — which he probably doesn’t need anyway — consider taking him to EyesOn Design.

“It’s a beautiful way to spend Father’s Day,” Lightbody said.

For brunch reservations, contact Judi Dara at (313) 824-4710 or jdara@dioeyes.org. The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads.

For more information, visit www.eyesondesign.org.