Engineers often quote a version of the same mantra: If a ridiculous solution solves a problem, then it’s not ridiculous.
University of Utah researchers have developed a prototype for a pair of “smart glasses” that might fit that criteria. Clunky as they may be, the new glasses use embedded sensors to automatically focus on whatever a wearer wants to see — near or far.
Developers say the glasses eliminate the need for bifocals or reading glasses, which can’t adjust to a person’s entire field of view.
“Most people who get reading glasses have to put them on and take them off all the time,” team leader Carlos Mastrangelo, a professor in the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, said in a statement. “You don’t have to do that anymore. You put these on, and it’s always clear.”
The smart glasses don’t actually contain any glass, but rather a highly viscous liquid called glycerin that’s sandwiched between two rubber membranes. A small device in the rear membrane can bend the lens to change the focal length between the glasses and the user’s eyes.
The actuators that move the membrane know how much to bend the lenses based on a sensor embedded in the bridge of the glasses. If the sensor picks up that the wearer is moving toward an object, it can warp the lens to shorten the focal length — and vice versa if the person is farther away.
The total time needed to make that change is about 14 milliseconds, many times faster than the average blink.
Given the location of the sensor, however, it can’t really pick up on peripheral vision. Users who want to see something at their side would need to turn their head completely to bring the object into focus. (The sheer size of the glasses makes sideways glances difficult to begin with.)
The glasses pair with a smartphone app that keeps track of the wearer’s prescription, Mastrangelo says — meaning they can change the lenses automatically via Bluetooth.
Mastrangelo and his team have identified a number of kinks to work out before they hit the market, which will ideally happen within the next three years, he says. The look of the glasses is the most obvious fix needed — any commercial product will have to be much sleeker and lighter, the team agrees. They also hope to shrink the mechanisms that power the lenses.
If all goes according to plan, the startup that has been created to sell the glasses — Sharpeyes LLC — will one day give millions of bifocal users around the world an easier way to see.