Self Adjusting Glasses Offer Instant Vision Fix

PHOTO: Self focusing glasses allow users to instantly adjust prescription. PixelOptics
Self focusing glasses allow users to instantly adjust prescription.

Perfect vision no longer requires numerous trips to the eye doctor and multiple pairs of glasses to see near and far. Thanks to the new trend in self-adjusting eyewear, you can instantly focus eyesight with a light touch or toss of the head.

Superfocus lenses are already widely available in the U.S. According to Stephen Kurtin, the eyeglass company's chief operating officer, people often have changes to both near and far vision as they get older.

"When the eye ages, the crystalline lens located behind the iris thickens and stiffens and you have more trouble seeing up close," he said. "At the same time you can become more nearsighted as your eyeball shape changes."

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Superfocus lenses mimic the function of a youthful eye, Kurtin said. A lens in the front part of the frame adjusts to correct myopia, or nearsightedness. A lens in the back has two surfaces, a rigid and flexible one, separated by a clear fluid. To correct close up vision, you move a slider along the frame's bridge to push around the fluid and alter the shape of the lens.

The eyewear's round shape mimics the shape of the eye, Kurtin said, which further sharpens vision.

Empower lens achieve a similar result with electronic magnification. The user touches the right temple to automatically toggle the prescription between reading and distance. Switching the eyewear into automatic mode enables the user to do a subtle head tilt (similar to the head movements used to control Google Glass) to change magnification.

An original version of EmPower eyewear was available in 12 styles and multiple colors. But Empower's maker, PixelOptics, removed them from the market last year so they could tinker with the technology. Brett Craig, PixelOptics president and CEO, said the company was hoping to reintroduce them in the next few months.

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Miesha Frempong, MD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City, said she liked the idea of self-focusing lenses because they make wearing glasses more convenient.

"If it cuts back on eye doctor visits and helps in emergencies when you lose or break your glasses I think it's great," Frempong said.

Even if the prescription is slightly off, Frempong said she doesn't worry about eye damage, except in young children with still-developing vision.

"Vision is like cement. Once it develops with age you can't modify it that much," she pointed out.

However, Frempong says the technology isn't perfect. To begin with, she said she was concerned that self-adjusting lenses may not correct vision as precisely as traditional glasses.

The prices of self adjusting specs may be also be cost prohibitive for many, she said.

Sharp Vision lenses start at $525 and EmPower lenses start at $1,200, although PixelOptics is rethinking its pricing strategy. Considering that consumers can purchase lenses to correct nearsightedness for under $100 and reading glasses for around $1.50 in any drugstore, that's a real premium on convenience, Frempong said.

Vision For Developing Countries

Frempong is most excited about AdSpecs, the self-adjusting lenses developed by a British professor of physics to address the lack of eye care in developing countries.

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AdSpecs have flexible lenses filled with a clear fluid. By squeezing the syringe on the side of the glasses, the user shifts the fluid to alter the shape of the lenses and snaps off the syringe to seal the desired prescription into place.

Another U.K. company, Eyejusters, achieve a similar result with a removable magnet attached to the temple of its frame. Like AdSpecs, Eyejusters cost less than $50 a pair. Both are now distributed throughout poorer countries by various charities and foundations.

Frempong says the affordable lenses could be a game changer in places where ophthalmologists are a rarity and affordable corrective lenses are a scarce commodity.

Considering they offer vision correction without the benefit of a professional, Frempong said she thought they would provide adequate eyesight to many people. However, they aren't able to correct more challenging vision problems like stigmatism, she said.

"In poor countries when the choice is between something and nothing, this is certainly a nice something," she said.