Stay on target
For the love of science, stop cluttering your house with cheap plastic reading glasses.
Engineers at the University of Utah developed smart specs with liquid-based adaptive lenses that automatically focus on whatever a person sees—near or far.
Not yet ready for primetime, the technology could one day replace ready readers: over-the-counter frames that offer clearer vision to people with presbyopia and hyperopia. But the non-prescription magnifiers are only a temporary fix.
“Most people who get reading glasses have to put them on and take them off all the time,” University of Utah instructor Carlos Mastrangelo (pictured, right) said in a statement. “You don’t have to do that anymore. You put these on, and it’s always clear.”
Lucky for us, the human eye comes with a built-in lens that naturally adjusts the focal depth. But as people age, that lens loses its ability to change focus, leaving folks at the mercy of drug-store and supermarket reading glasses displays.
University of Utah College of Engineering
In an attempt to correct for that unavoidable damage, engineering professor Mastrangelo and doctoral student Nazmul Hasan (pictured, left) created eyeglass lenses made of glycerin—a thick colorless liquid, often used in electronic cigarettes, antifreeze, electric race cars, and various foodstuffs.
Flexible rubber-like membranes on the back of the lens connect to mechanical actuators that push back and forth “like a transparent piston,” the University press release said.
“The focal length of the glasses depends on the shape of the lens, so to change the optical power we actually have to change the membrane shape,” Mastrangelo explained.
First-time users simply input their eyeglasses prescription into an accompanying smartphone app, which calibrates the lenses via Bluetooth. And, theoretically, wearers will never have to buy another pair of specs again.
There’s one catch, though: The current prototype—invented by Mastrangelo, Hasan, and their researchers—looks like Harry Potter blinkers on steroids. Round, bulky, and altogether unfashionable, the battery-powered frames measure the distance from the glasses to an object via pulses of infrared light; the lenses can change focus from one object to another in 14 milliseconds.
The team is working to improve the design—first displayed at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—to make them smaller and lighter. A “more attractive” pair of spectacles, Mastrangelo said, could hit shelves as soon as 2020; startup Sharpeyes LLC has been created to commercialize the glasses.