Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating bifocals, but a team at the University of Utah has created adaptive glasses where the liquid-based lenses automatically adjust based on what the subject is currently looking at, whether a piece of paper in the hand or a sign across the street.
The research team behind these glasses (dubbed “Smart Glasses”) is led by Carlos Mastrangelo, an electrical and engineering professor, and a doctoral student Nazmul Hasan at the University of Utah. The idea of the Smart Glasses is modeled on the design process of our actual eyes. The human eye works by altering the focal length of the lens based on what we are looking at but the as time goes on, the lens loses focus. This is why older people tend to have reading glasses and normal glasses to do the job of previously done by their eyes naturally.
The lenses in the Smart Glasses are made from glycerin. The glycerin is surrounded by a flexible, rubber membrane enclosure. There are 3 actuators attached to each membrane which helps to shape the lens into the correct focal length for use. The lenses are then placed into a custom eyeglass frame which was created by the research team as well. The frame provides the necessary battery and electronics to power the actuators, along with the distance meter, which sits on the bridge of the frame. The distance meter sends out infrared light every 0.014 seconds to quickly adjust the glycerin lenses to focus object the wearer is looking at.
Smart Glasses will sync with their smartphone app (through Bluetooth) allowing users to input their prescription into the glasses. This setup process only needs to be done when the prescription changes, which for most people is once a year. Not a bad tradeoff for people who will never need to buy glasses again.
The Smart Glasses project was funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. A working prototype was displayed at the 2017 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and Mastrangelo has said that Sharpeyes LLC has been created for commercialization of more attractive and marketable pairs.
As a wearer of glasses, I am keeping an eye on this development. Every stage of eye care (glasses, contacts, and Lasik) has their own pros and cons and right now I flip between glasses and contacts. To me. the real concern I have regarding how Luxottica and the other eyeglass manufacturers will handle Smart Glasses that could bring about the end of their profit margins on thin pieces of plastic and metal. Think about that for a minute, what the Smart Glasses promises is more than smart eyewear. Smart Glasses could be passed among adults by friends and family which would literally stay working forever. If it fits your face, you can see using this technology. How will that change the landscape of eye care manufacturers, optometrists, luxury brands and the like when anyone will be able to program their prescription into their frames using their phone and carry on with their life?