Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Medicine Technology

Goodbye Bifocals — Electronic Glasses Change Focus 166

kkleiner writes "Move over Ben Franklin, we finally have a replacement for bifocals. Virginia-based Pixel Optics has developed a composite lens that can change the range of focus electronically. The emPower! glasses were created in cooperation with Panasonic Healthcare, and allow you to switch between long distance and short distance vision in a split second. Rather than having a lens divided into two sections, emPower! uses an LCD overlay that can change the focal length of the glasses via electric current. When the LCD layer is off, your lenses are good for intermediate/long distances. Turn the LCD layer on, and a section of the lens is suddenly magnifying close-up images – perfect for reading."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Goodbye Bifocals — Electronic Glasses Change Focus

Comments Filter:
  • How do you switch? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bradgoodman ( 964302 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @01:50PM (#34850692) Homepage
    How do you switch between the two? With a mechanical switch? Seems to me like that would be more difficult than just adjusting your gaze between the two lenses, like with normal bifocals...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NEDHead ( 1651195 )
      The 16K implanted brain probes sense your intent and adjust accordingly
    • emPower! lets you switch back and forth between near and far by touching the sides of the frames. Or you can engage an accelerometer that will automatically switch between modes depending on whether you are looking up or down.

      Seems pretty easy, either tap your frame or use them just like bifocals. Pretty nifty.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @02:56PM (#34851776) Homepage Journal

        Not as nifty as my CrystaLens. Its focus accomodates, exactly like the eye of a young person does (at least from the user's perspective, even if the mechanism is different).

        Over the life of your eyeballs a CrystaLens is probably cheaper, too. The surgery is ~$7k per eye, but you only need it once and your eyes focus for the rest of your life, no glasses needed (at least, if your surgeon is competent). If you have cataracts, insurance will pay all but about $1k per eye. You can get cataracts from steroid eyedrops.

        The downsides are that the CrystaLens is a surgical implant; they stick a neeedle in your eye, shoot ultrasound down the needle to turn your eye's lens to mush, suck the mush out through the needle, and insert the implant in its place. Most patients don't require any external lenses like glasses or contacts after the surgery, but some do (Evil-X is wearing bifocals, but I think that was a bad choice of surgeons), but most don't have the better than 20/20 vision I got, although something like 98% have better than 20/25. Glasses give better vision for most patients.

        (Journal of the procedure here) []

        • That whole 'stick a needle in your eye' bit freaks me out. It also reminds me of this:

          Cross my heart, hope to die,
          stick a needle in my eye

          • by gknoy ( 899301 )

            Mcgrew's account of his things-stuck-in-the-eye adventures are horrifying. For added fun, go read Larry Wall's diary about his cataract surgery. /shudder. Thank you both for writing those, as it really helped educate me, both about the pain involved and the benefits later.

          • made me think of Un Chien Andalou, actually :)

        • You're one of the lucky ones. My close friend is blind in his left eye due to a botched early (experimental) version of this proceedure (from scar tissue, I believe). Also, any time you go under general anesthesia, there is a chance you will never wake up... most that take elective surgeries ignore the statistical dangers of "going under," but they are quite real.
        • by vux984 ( 928602 )

          The downsides are that the CrystaLens is a surgical implant...

          That means a lot of risks, and potential future complications. Glancing at your journal, you were probably a good candidate, and it was clearly worth it to you.

          But I'd recommend most people stick to glasses, contact lenses, or orthokeratology. That last is the use of contact lenses that reshape your cornea while you sleep* (so its still reversible and non-surgical)

          (* in much the same way sitting on a textured chair will imprint itself on your ski

    • by OolimPhon ( 1120895 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @01:59PM (#34850850)

      Idiots. They have no idea how people of bifocals use them, do they?

      I have mine set up so that the line between the separately-focused halves is exactly lined up with the top of my monitor - and the focus of the lower half is arm's length, which is just right for screen work and still acceptable for reading.

      All I have to do is rotate my eyeball up to see perfectly the guy at the facing desk or rotate it downwards to see the code on my screen perfectly, all without moving my head.

      Why on earth would I want to tap my glasses everytime I look up or down?

      • No offense but that sounds like a pain-in-the-ass.
        What we really need is to clone eyeballs with fresh lenses that have the flexible membranes of youth.
        C64love (not looking forward to wearing bifocals)

        • Bifocals are just a general pain in the ass, even with progressives. Their one saving grace is that they're better than the alternative. Well, I guess it's the plural of "alternative" now. I'll still be sticking with progressives rather than these over-complicated devices.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      RTFA - you either touch the frame or "engage an accelerometer" (probably not the right device) to switch when you tip your head down.

      Also, the entire lens doesn't change focal length, only sections at the bottom of the lens.

      Basically, you have bifocals that can be switched to full-frame far vision.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        How hard is pupil tracking? I mean cameras do it for focusing these days. It can't be that much harder to do it twice. Once you have the position of both pupils, determine how crossed the person's eyes are, and when it exceeds a preset threshold, switch to close focusing. That would be much, much better than either of the above schemes because it wouldn't require the user to pay attention to the glasses.

        Similarly, why only use half the glasses? As far as comfort goes, it's easiest to read with your eye

        • by am 2k ( 217885 )

          Well, you'd need two CCDs and a CV processor on your glasses somewhere, which I imagine would be kinda bulky (don't forget that you have to wear the glasses about 18h a day, so every gram counts). But I agree that this would be the way to go sooner or later.

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            Eh. You only need to track one axis of motion (horizontal position of the pupil), so I suspect you could come up with something much simpler that would do the job. For example, you might have a row of individually detected photocells across the top edge of the frame and a focused (microlensed?) IR array along the bottom edge. Take the moving average of each cell over a fraction of a second, and find the center of the dark part. Might or might not give precise enough measurement, but it would be worth a

    • I suppose those would be the opposite of what you need here - "No, that small print could be scary - let's refocus for distance!".

      Thank you for making a humble pair of reading glasses so very, very happy!

    • Getting first post trumps reading the article I guess.

    • It automatically switches every three seconds. Usually at just the wrong time.
    • As this story on CBC point out bifocals increase the risk of falling. []

      So yes switching your gaze is easy with tradition bifocals, but they reduce your field of vision for certain things like walking.

    • by gr8_phk ( 621180 )
      It would be great if it could be controlled by the impulses to the focus muscles in your eye. Better yet would be a flexible lens replacement that just bends like the real thing - non electronically.
    • why, you clap your hands of course.

  • Perfect for (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @01:51PM (#34850710) Journal

    breaking and expensive replacements.

    Sorry, but I like my analog glasses just fine. I'd hate to have to constantly flip between LCD mode and normal mode. That would drive me nuts more than my graduated glasses are now.

    Not everything is better digitally.

    • Re:Perfect for (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jayme0227 ( 1558821 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @02:10PM (#34851058) Journal

      This is interesting technology, but just screams "Solution looking for a problem."

      • Actually, if it worked well (and didn't cost $1200) I would buy a pair in a second. I use bifocals all the time around the house and at work. However, for example, if I'm hiking, they're a pain because I'm looking down through the close up lenses and everything gets blurred.

        In fact, I have 'outside' and 'inside' glasses for that reason. If you could adjust the magnification of the lenses for even closer work it would be even better.

        Looks like a technology to keep an eye on.
        • by Seedy2 ( 126078 )

          They could put in a rangefinder that automatically chose the correct magnification based on what's in front of your head.
          If there was an in FOV "aiming dot" (a la HUD) you could aim the range finder at your object of interest.

          I tried bifocal sunglasses for a while, had the same issue with blurry feet.
          So sunglasses are single vision, clear glasses are bifocal.
          Now I just go with the whole "if it's dark I can't see my feet anyway, wear sunglasses outside" thing.

      • by Natales ( 182136 )
        That's narrow-minded. This is the just the beginning of this technology.

        Just to name one, imagine in a few years the implications for the field of photography. Potentially, you won't need to bring a bag of expensive lenses designed for very specific focal lengths and apertures. One single morphing lense would replace a complete bag of fixed ones.
    • When volume is ramped up, these could easily become less expensive than bifocals; after all, there's only one grinding operation per lens instead of two.

      Switching manually is a pain, but so is moving your head to get the correct lens in view.

  • by yoshi_mon ( 172895 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @01:52PM (#34850726)

    Yes let us bid goodbye to a foolproof, established, and market proven tech because something new has come out.

    Taco...Come now, "Welcome the new Bifocals," would have been much more appropriate.

    • Because I own two pairs of reading glasses *and* wear contacts. As I age, my extreme myopia is combining with presbyopia to require me to keep around several pairs of glasses for different applications: A pair of +1.50 glasses for desk work, reading and computer use, a pair of +2.50 glasses for electronics work, and I sometimes wear both for reading those tiny letters on SMD resistors, etc.

      The days are over when I could wear spectacles for my myopia and just remove them for very close work. My eyes just

      • And like your eyesight you miss the point completely.

        It is not about there being an new tech. It is not about it being better and someone like you who will benefit from it and likely use it.

        But that the idea that because a new tech comes that the old tech is going to go away instantly. Can we please put on some reading glasses such that we have focus on the way tech works on a site like Slashdot.

      • I'd love a practical pair of variable magnification glasses for work.

        Progressive lenses - about $60.

    • I've got bifocals, and they suck because the reading section is so small. These glasses would also suck, because the reading section is still way too small, requiring you to look down your nose to view a computer terminal. Not exactly the most comfortable position for an 8 hour work day.
      • Ask for the 35mm lens instead of the 28mm next time you get glasses. They might have to special order it, though.

        The 28/35mm refers to the width of the bifocal section. 7mm makes a big difference.

      • If you're doing an 8-hour work day, get full-sized reading glasses, and switch glasses when you're leaving your desk. Or you could try progressive lenses.

        Twenty years ago, it was much easier to fix this problem for my supervisor, who was about 60 and constantly switching glasses. We were using the Sun NeWS windowing system, so we just told his screen to use a 25-point font, everything got bigger, and he was happy. On the other hand, today you can get a much bigger screen, and as long as you're not using

        • and as long as you're not using Windows, it's not too hard to change font sizes.

          Or not using Mac OS. That's my one major complaint with Mac OS: 27" screen, and I can't bump the system-wide font size up.

          Don't know why you're picking on Windows, though. For quite a while there's been a system setting for "large fonts". Whether or not individual apps honor that is a different story.

        • and as long as you're not using Windows, it's not too hard to change font sizes.

          um, how difficult is ctrl-scrollwheel? Even as far back as Windows XP holding the control key down while moving the mouse scroll wheel alters font size in practically every application except the desktop (for which there's a static font size adjust).

        • Not quite sure what your complaint is; Windows has text DPI settings and the more recent versions enforce their use pretty well.

      • Might try a style of frame with larger lenses/larger reading section or look into inverted bifocals, which have the near/distance sections swapped.

    • The primary goal is not to represent the subject of the article with a title that is 100% accurate. The primary goal is to craft a title that will make you click on the link.
  • by KPexEA ( 1030982 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @01:58PM (#34850820)
    Once these are cheaper then I might switch, but for now the $60 progressives that I bought from [] are working just fine thanks.
    • I was just going to recommend Zenni Optical myself. I have four pairs of glasses from there for less than it would have cost for one anywhere else.
      • As long as you dont take the Anti-Reflection Coating the quality is quite fine. (The coating itself is nice but it breakdown if you wash your glass under hot water or if you take them to extreme cold)

        • by darrylo ( 97569 )

          On the other hand, if you're willing to be careful (and not subject the glasses to temperature extremes), the anti-reflection coating is quite nice. I've had progressives with the coating for 2+ years, and the coating is largely intact and unblemished. The only issues are a couple of tiny scratches -- one caused by kleenex (do NOT use kleenex to clean coated lenses) and the other caused either by kleenex or a cotton shirt. I now clean my glasses by doing:

          1. Rinsing under water (sometimes hot -- I've never
        • by treeves ( 963993 )

          I got a pair of progressive bifocals from Zenni Optical and had no problems with the anti-reflective coating, and I wash my glasses with detergent and water every day.
          I did have a problem with the frames eventually (after about two years) snapping in two right at the bridge. Especially since they were 'titanium' frames.
          I may try them again. Lasting two years at that price I really have no complaint.

  • Meh. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @02:00PM (#34850862)
    The Superfocus [] ones look much more interesting (continuously variable focus), and are considerably cheaper, too (~$700). Con: they're only available with circular lenses. Pro: they're hyped by Penn Jillette.
    • I have the Superfocus "Truefocals" Astonishingly, they work. I'm wearing them right now. I couldn't have continued computer work without them. I searched and read everything, and decided to try them: good company, full 100% refund for 30 days when I bought them (and they pay shipping both ways). I'm getting so I use them for many other things -- woodworking, reading small print on physical manuals. They're 50% heavier than normal glasses. But the bottom line is: they work. I can adjust to any distance j
      • I have the Superfocus "Truefocals"

        Astonishingly, they work. I'm wearing them right now. I couldn't have continued computer work without them.

        I searched and read everything, and decided to try them: good company, full 100% refund for 30 days when I bought them (and they pay shipping both ways).

        I'm getting so I use them for many other things -- woodworking, reading small print on physical manuals.

        They're 50% heavier than normal glasses. But the bottom line is: they work. I can adjust to any distance just by touching the slider. I wear them 8 hours a day; have for about six months now. If I broke them I'd buy another pair immediately.

        Couldn't a pair of progressive lenses for a third the price do the same thing? I ask this as a serious question, as I have to replace my old glasses (which are progressive lenses).

    • by JanneM ( 7445 )

      Anything that needs me to manually adjust the glasses is a no-go for me. Normal progressive lenses work just fine already, so I don't really see the point of making it complicated and intrusive. If I want to improve my eyesight I'd much rather get surgery for my shortsightedness and astigmatism, then use progressives with uncorrected upper area. Either way I don't have to mess with my glasses just because I want to change my viewing distance.

  • I seem to be missing the display part of this supposed LCD.

  • by bjk002 ( 757977 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @02:14PM (#34851114)

    on this thread, but I would think a bunch of nerds would appreciate the technological triumph, not belabor the deficiencies / hurdles that remain.

    Perhaps the price-point is ridiculous, but as any professionals know the price drops with economies of scale.

    From my perspective, this represents a viable first step toward the elimination of glasses all together. I'm thinking contact lenses with micro generators like this []. OK, maybe not today, but tomorrow?

    • on this thread, but I would think a bunch of nerds would appreciate the technological triumph, not belabor the deficiencies / hurdles that remain.

      Perhaps the price-point is ridiculous, but as any professionals know the price drops with economies of scale.


      Plus Apple might pick this tech up when it's more viable and make an even better product out of it.

      I could use some iGlasses while reading the ridiculously small screen on the new iPod nano.

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      You only just noticed how anti-tech slashdot has become? Look at most threads about technology, and you will find it full of comments about how it will never catch on, it is unnecessary, or the old version is better.
  • Opti-Grab 2.0 FTW!!
  • A much better solution is contacts for distance vision and some cheap reading glasses. Can I patent this?

    • No, thats a 'different' solution, not necessarily a 'better' one. Many cases where that would be non-optimal:
      Person can't wear/doesn't like contacts.
      You're in front of a screen for 8/10/12 hrs a day, hence reading glasses, hence why am I wearing contacts for all that time?
      Now I have to manage two sets of aux eyeballs - glasses and contacts.

      Personally, I like this adjustable concept. Give it a little time to mature, and we'll see.
      • by treeves ( 963993 )

        And there are environments where contacts can't be worn (around some chemicals etc.), not to mention the hassle of maintaining and changing them and discomfort.

  • I wonder how big the batteries will need to be to balance style and weight with the need to recharge the glasses. People will not be too receptive to something like this if they have to recharge it on a daily basis or if it as bulky as the powered 3d glasses. That seems like a significant hurdle that will need to be overcome before these are even remotely practical.

  • Can't wait for it to fail and switch to reading-mode while doing 70mph on the freeway.

  • ....and it's probably sufficient for many people.

    That said, having something that could automatically adjust projection on the retina would be better for most people.....glasses with automatically adjusting correction, based on whatever the lens is doing, not just what direction the glance is focused.

    Still, even that wouldn't be help for people like me; refractive correction is one thing, understanding how the nerves transmit that information is anoteher thing. (Optic neuritis is a symptom of another medi

  • The tech is cool, but I don't see the advantage to this. Or, I should say, the inherent disadvantage (it needs some sort of active switch, either mechanical or acceleration-based) outweighs the single small advantage I can think of (I used to like laying my head back and watching TV through the lower part of my glasses - can't do that with bifocals).

    Seriously - this looks like a solution in search of a problem.

    • Well, put a zoom on this, maybe a camera, and I'd be a happy camper.

      My biggest pet peeve about wearing glasses is that they'll only correct you to 20/20 (in the hopes that your eyes will fix themselves over time). I've been wearing glasses for almost thirty years now. It's a safe bet that I'll always need them, so why not start giving me 20/15 lenses at least?

      • by Seedy2 ( 126078 )

        I have found that, when talking to folks who claim to have 20/20, I always have better vision with my glasses.
        People complain about the size of the font I use on the screen, when I'm not using the bottom of the bifocal to read it.
        I tell them to get their eyes checked, they claim to have 20/20 vision.
        They are in denial and/or my eyes are just better, corrected, than theirs.

        What I cannot comprehend why someone would be willing to accept worse vision to go a couple for years without glasses, then need glasses

        • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          Well, keep in mind that 20/20 is not 'perfect' eyesight. it means that you should be able to see thing that are 20' like they are 20' away. 30/20 might be better. 200/20 would put you in the realm of super hero. (I might have the numbers reversed. It has been a while since I looked this up.) So, perticularly when talking about looking at a monitor, 20/20 doesn't even come into play.

          That being said, there are a lot of people that think they have better eyesight than they do. Sometimes this is beca
      • My biggest pet peeve about wearing glasses is that they'll only correct you to 20/20 (in the hopes that your eyes will fix themselves over time). I've been wearing glasses for almost thirty years now. It's a safe bet that I'll always need them, so why not start giving me 20/15 lenses at least?

        They don't; they correct your vision to the best they can achieve with 0.25 (usually) diopter increments.

  • Does this mean I'll get an undistorted F/1 10-1000mm lens for under 1k€ in the next 5 years?

  • Ok, can you tell I watch the Disney Channel with my toddler?? My first thought was "Wobble Goggles" from the Imagination Movers! :-)

  • Will my health insurance cover the cost?

  • I mean Chuck Norris loves the Total Gym, it's a product that you can sell with one of these infomercial stories. Why don't we have a story about it?
  • Feeling old (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kabloom ( 755503 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @03:28PM (#34852358) Homepage

    This probably doesn't solve the main problem of bifocals, which is that people who need to wear them for the first time will still feel old. Graded lenses without the line that's visible to other people didn't solve that problem, and technologically cool LCD glasses won't either.

  • If you're going to add whiz-bang technology to glasses, why not go the full monty and add a 3d polarized mode for movie-going four-eyeses? Why not throw in a "sunglasses mode" while you're at it? For $1200, I'd expect more features.
  • I'm more worried about things look like when these go "bluescreen"

    • by Seedy2 ( 126078 )

      Or when they play ads from time to time... sorry officer targeted advertising in my legally mandated eye-wear, please apologize to everyone I hit on behalf of N!ke, Micro$oft, BigPharma, and W@llM@rt.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @06:08PM (#34854746)

    OK, here's me. I'm a physics professor. I don't do optoelectronics research, but I do teach optics sometimes. I'm pretty savvy about electricity, magnetism, optics, chemistry, etc. I know how LCDs work, in detail.


    How the hell do you change the index of refraction of a material for *both polarizations* simultaneously? Liquid crystals are birefringent, but that's not enough to make a *lens*.

    Also, what does it say about Slashdot and the rest of the geek community websites reporting this story that nobody else is asking this question? Aren't you guys supposed to be curious about how things work, or have you become like the rest of humanity, taking technology to be a miracle handed down from on high?

    I'm baffled on both counts.

    • Okay after racking my brain for a few minutes, I have one guess: an electrical field orients liquid crystals so their long axis is parallel to the light path -- as opposed to traditional LCDs where the crystal elements are aligned perpendicular to the light path. But that's just a guess: I have no idea if that's even *possible*.

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      No, Slashdot has gotten more of the mindset that technology is sent for the hoary nether world to corrupt us bring about the end of mankind. You notice a lack of curiosity concerning tech, I have noticed a distinct distrust and aversion to it.
    • How the hell do you change the index of refraction of a material for *both polarizations* simultaneously? Liquid crystals are birefringent, but that's not enough to make a *lens*.

      I think what they're saying is that the individual liquid crystal molecules they use have a refractive property themselves, and when aligned together electrically produce a lens.

      My knowledge of optics is cursory at best - please check out page 12 of the patent and translate for the ignorant masses. :)

    • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @01:31AM (#34858148)

      Thanks to people who linked to the patent, I think I understand what's going on now. My guess was mostly right...

      A liquid crystal material consists of long rod-shaped molecules. They have the funny property that light passes through them at a different speed depending on whether the light is polarized parallel to or perpendicular to the axis of the rods. This is called "birefringence".

      Normally, if a thin layer of liquid crystal is sandwiched between two glass plates, the molecules line up parallel to the plates. However, if you put a voltage across the plates, the molecules line up end-to-end, perpendicular to the plates.

      Therefore, applying a voltage effectively changes the speed of light passing through the liquid crystal. Glass optics work because the speed of light in glass is slower than in air: the difference in speed causes the light to be bent. Since liquid crystals can *change* their speed of light electrically, if you create a LC layer with exactly the right shape you can make a "lens" that vanishes when you switch off the voltage.

      There's a lot of technical details (rather than creating a classical lens, the liquid crystals impersonate a Fresnel lens, requiring specific shapes and voltages for the electrodes) but that's the gist of it.

      Where I was being led astray was by the effect liquid crystals have on *rotating the polarization* of light. This is a crucial part of understanding how LCD monitors work [], but after thinking about it I realize that when used in these glasses, the liquid crystal will indeed rotate the polarization, but that's not something the human eye can detect.

  • Seems to me someone just announced a new electronic buggy whip. I've been wearing multifocal contacts for 2 years and love them. They're less than $200/yr if you know where to look, and if you've got decent insurance, they're basically free. So why would I want some huge electonic goggles perched on my nose again ?
  • Just because you can, doesn't mean you have to. We don't need to 'electroinfy' everything we see.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern