Researchers at the University of Utah have developed smart glasses with liquid lenses that can automatically adjust their focus. They could put an end to bifocals, and you’d only ever need that one pair of adjustable spectacles for the rest of your life.
Regular prescription glasses, don’t fix the eyes’ accommodation problems. They simply shift the range of what’s in focus rather than expanding it.
So if you put on a pair of reading glasses, the once-blurry page a foot from your eyes will be clear, but objects on the other side of the room will suddenly be blurry. The reverse is true of people who need glasses only for seeing far distances.
The new smart glasses consist of lenses made of glycerin, a thick clear liquid, enclosed in flexible membranes. The membranes can be mechanically moved back and forth, changing the curvature of the glycerin lens. The lenses are set in frames containing a distance meter on the bridge, which measures the distance from the wearer’s face to nearby objects using infrared light. The meter then sends a signal to adjust the curve of the lens. This adjustment can happen quickly, letting the user focus from one object to another in 14 milliseconds.
The glasses come with a smartphone app, which uses data about the wearer’s eyeglass prescription to automatically calibrate the lenses via Bluetooth. When the wearer gets a new prescription, they can simply update the information on the app.
The glasses, whose battery is stored in one stem of the frame, work for up to six hours before you have to recharge them. Now that they have a functioning prototype, the researchers hope to integrate eye-tracking technology, which could provide even more precise focus adjustments.
With its thick stems and wide frames, the laser-cut acrylic prototype may seem a bit clunky. But for now, function is more important than form. Still, someday soon the researchers may shift their focus to streamlining the design and sending customizable glasses to a store near you.