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Bye Bye, Bifocals: These Smart Glasses Automatically Adjust Your Vision

Let's face it: bifocals are a pain to wear, and reading glasses let everyone know you're no spring chicken. What if there were glasses that automatically adjusted to focus on whatever object you looked at, wirelessly connected to your smartphone, and were stylish to boot. Ok, scratch that last part (for now, at least). Let us introduce you to the very first smart glasses, set to change vision correction—and fashion, probably—forever.

Related: Pantone's Color Technicians Undergo Rigorous Vision Exams

Why we're covering this:

  • Anyone who's ever worn bifocals knows why! These could be an exciting vision solution
  • We love stories of innovators who are building solutions to everyday problems

How Your Eyes Age

To understand how the goggles—er, glasses—work, you need to know a little something about your own eyes. The two structures that help focus incoming light are the cornea, a transparent layer on the very front of the eye, and the crystalline lens, another transparent structure that sits right behind the pupil. Muscles around the lens change its shape depending on where you need to focus: when they relax, the lens flattens and helps you see distant objects; when they contract, it bends and thickens, helping you see objects close up.

Related: Your Eye Is 576 Megapixels, But You're Asking The Wrong Question

When you're young, this all works fine. But as you get older—by 45 or so, for most people—that lens is too stiff to focus correctly, making close-up objects like books and screens look blurry. The two options middle-agers have at that point are reading glasses, which are designed to be worn for close-range tasks, and bifocals, which are made with close-up focus at the bottom of the lens and distance focus at the top. Neither are perfect, and both require some trade-offs. That's why the idea of smart glasses that automatically adjust is so exciting.

The creators with their "smart glasses," which automatically adjust based on where a person is looking

Ze Goggles, Zey Do Something

The high-tech glasses were developed by University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Carlos Mastrangelo and doctoral student Nazmul Hasan. Here's how they work: the "lenses" are flexible membranes filled with glycerin, a thick, transparent liquid. The rear membrane flexes back and forth via mechanical components in the frames, helping change its shape—and therefore, its focus. An infrared distance meter in the bridge measures how far away objects are, then tells the lenses how to adjust. They can make the change in as little as 14 milliseconds.

Related: The Stars In Your Eyes Are Called Phosphenes

This technology means there's no need for a custom prescription. The glasses connect to a smartphone app where wearers can input their prescription information. Once that's done, the glasses automatically calibrate. That means that when your prescription changes, you don't need a new pair of glasses; you just need to update your information in the app. So don't worry—you'll be able to wear this pair of fashion faux pas for decades. We're only kidding: this is just a prototype. The researchers say a lighter, more stylish model could hit the market within three years.

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Vision

A Crash Course In Human Vision

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Nearly 70% of all the sensory receptors in your whole body are in your eyes. Nearly half of the cerebral cortex is involved in vision. 00:48

  2. Light hits your posterior retina and spreads from the photoreceptors to the polar cells to the innermost ganglion cells. The ganglion cells form the optic nerve, which carries visual impulses to the thalamus and onto the brain's visual cortex. 05:43

  3. Cones detect fine detail and color, and can be divided into red, green, and blue types, depending on how they respond to different types of light. Rods are more numerous and light sensitive, but they can't distinguish color. Rods rule your peripheral vision. 06:11

Written by Curiosity Staff March 14, 2017

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