Just like most parts of the human body, our eyes have a tendency to get worse with age. You might take your ability to focus for granted now, but that could change once you hit late middle age and beyond, leading you to seek a solution to your situational vision woes. A team of researchers at the University of Utah may have come up with a fix in the form of glasses that automatically adjust to whatever you’re looking at, eliminating the need for traditional “reading glasses” or even bifocals.
Normal eyeglasses use hard lenses to adjust the wearer’s focus based on their own unique visual acuity. They’re great for temporary use either while reading or if the wearer has issues seeing far, but typically need to be removed whenever they’re not specifically needed. Bifocals are different in that they’re worn most of the time, splitting the lens between the wearer’s everyday prescription and their “reading” prescription, but they’re not a perfect solution by any means.
The “smart” glasses that engineering professor Carlos Mastrangelo and his team just invented swaps out the rigid lenses for a thick glycerin liquid encased in flexible membranes on either side. An infrared sensor on the front of the glasses detects distance between the wearer and whatever it is their looking at, and the glasses physically alter the shape of the membranes, thereby adjusting the curve of the lenses to bring it into focus.
The glasses sync with a smartphone app containing the wearer’s prescription, which is crucial for the spectacles to accurately adjust the lenses. The lenses are powerful enough to tweak the focus of the lenses in as little as 14 milliseconds.
It’s an extremely cool invention, but there’s just one big problem: the glasses are absolutely hideous. The original 3D printed prototype of the specs looks like something out of an 80s science fiction movie, and they’re certainly not something you’d ever want to be seen wearing. Mastrangelo believes that the process of refining the styling will take as little as two to three years, and that glasses utilizing the technology could be on store shelves within that timeframe.