Electronic, LCD adjustable bifocals - new

Discussion in 'Optometry Archives' started by Neil Brooks, Jan 17, 2011.

  1. Neil Brooks

    Neil Brooks Guest




    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. 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. Gizmodo grabbed a great look at
    the emPower lens in action at this year’s CES in Las Vegas – check it
    out in the short video below. Starting this April, you could have a
    pair of your very own for $1200 or more. Pretty expensive, but these
    glasses are just too cool to ignore.

    Here’s a prediction that I’m also certain will come true: in the
    future, you will be older. Related prediction: you’re probably going
    to need glasses. Starting around age 40, many adults develop
    presbyopia, the condition that keeps your eyes from being able to
    focus on close-up objects. For millions of people around the world
    this inevitably leads to reading glasses, or bifocals if you already
    have bad vision. The trouble is that near-focus lenses tend to have a
    very short depth of view (a few feet at most) and this screws with
    your ability to see the world around you. Many people end up having to
    put their reading glasses on and take them off dozens of times a day.
    The alternative, using bifocals (or trifocals or progressive lenses)
    can make you dizzy or otherwise disorientated as you get used to
    looking at one area of your vision for far-sight and another for near-
    sight. The simple act of reading a menu at dinner or taking the stairs
    while talking to friends can become frustrating (or even dangerous)

    Reactive lenses like emPower! are a great step forward. With the
    accelerometer engaged, the glasses switch back and forth between far
    and close vision “as fast as a blink” whenever you look up or down. In
    other words, they help your eyes behave as younger ones already do. In
    the following video from CES, you can see the view through a
    demonstration lens. Notice how the ‘reading section’ – the oval in
    blue – changes focus back and forth. You won’t be able to see that
    here, but imagine the same thing occurring whenever you paused to look
    down at a menu, set of stairs, Roomba, etc.

    You can also watch a simulated comparison between traditional bifocals
    and emPower lenses on the Pixel Optics site.

    Inside the emPower! glasses are composite lenses formed from different
    materials. One is a classic optical plastic that you would find in
    many traditional lenses. The other is a section of transparent LCD
    connected to an electronic system embedded in the frames. When a
    current is applied, the LCD section alters its index of refraction –
    essentially changing it to a near-distance focal length. You engage
    the LCD section manually by sliding your finger backwards along the
    ear piece of the glasses, and disengage by swiping forward. Touching
    the side of the glasses for two seconds activates the accelerometer
    and the automatic focusing depending on head position. All the
    electronics are completed enclosed within the frame so there’s no
    worry about destroying them by dropping them in water. The batteries
    in emPower! are made to last about 30 hours and you recharge the
    system through an inductive charger. Overall, I would say I’m pretty
    impressed by the glasses.

    The induction charger (left) and several frame styles on display at
    CES 2011.
    That being said, I still think emPower! is far from perfect. First, we
    have to consider the price: $1200 is the starting level (that includes
    all the charging peripherals). Prices can go up depending on lens
    coatings, frame design, etc. That’s going to be 20-30% above the most
    advanced traditional lenses on the market. Second, you’re still going
    to need a prescription. The main lenses have to be fit to your vision,
    so that means if your vision deteriorates over time, you’ll have to
    replace your glasses. Not sure if that means $1200 each time or not.
    But you could be talking thousands of dollars a year depending on your
    rate of vision-decline. Finally, I’m not sure why the area of near
    vision is a small oval, but it seems like it would be better for that
    section to be larger. Maybe I’m missing out on something here because
    I don’t wear bifocals, but if my glasses can switch between near and
    far automatically, why do I need to keep the far-distance vision
    section when I’m looking down?

    While I’m pointing out the negatives, I should mention that the
    marketing people at Pixel Optics seem to be stuck in the 1980s. Do you
    really need to put an exclamation point in your product name?
    (emPower! sounds like a musical about voter’s rights.) And don’t go
    looking to their YouTube channel for any good visuals of how the
    glasses work, all you’ll get is endless talking heads describing how
    cool their product is going to be. How hard is it to just show us the
    lens in action?! Really, it’s like you’ve designed your entire
    marketing campaign towards my grandparents…

    …oh. Well, carry on then.

    Yeah, I’m not entirely sold on Pixel Optics, but the basic concept
    here is undeniably cool. Lenses that alternate between focal lengths
    automatically – that’s like Science Fiction 101. Hopefully the prices
    will come down before I hit 40 and need a pair of my own. As the
    technology improves I think we’ll see glasses that can hit several
    different focal lengths, maybe even in a continuum. That way, everyone
    could buy the same pair and just adjust them to fit your range of
    vision. There’s probably also some applications here in binoculars and
    other optics. I’m not sure if active-focus electronic lenses will
    mature before glasses with embedded video arrive in force. If they do,
    emPower! could become a staple of senior citizen centers everywhere.
    If they don’t, we’re likely to see augmented reality and wearable
    cameras make such technology obsolete. I guess what I’m saying is,
    Pixel Optics, sell your glasses quickly. There’s an aging populace out
    there that could end up buying millions of these things, but wait too
    long, and you’ll miss the window of opportunity.
    Neil Brooks, Jan 17, 2011
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  2. Neil Brooks

    Dan Abel Guest

    I'm still confused about not having two sections, but there are two
    sections, but let's move on. I don't know what "looking up" and
    "looking down" mean. I can't imagine that the accelerometer is attached
    to the eyes, so does that mean it is attached to the frames? One of the
    blessings of current bifocals is that they already "automatically"
    switch back and forth between near and far, just be moving your eyes.
    These new glasses aren't going to do this.
    That's a lot of money for what appears to be automated bifocals.
    That was my first question.

    I think that this technology shows a lot of promise, but I'm not so sure
    of the need and utility. We'll just have to see.

    And I didn't go to the web site, just read what Neil copy and pasted.
    Dan Abel, Jan 17, 2011
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  3. Neil,

    This design seems to add about +1.00 to an area below the distance gaze down to
    the near zone, requiring little, if any progressive optics for emerging
    presbyopes, to as little as a +1.50 progressive for advanced presbyopes, with
    the latter still needing to lift their chin to see intermediate distances at eye
    level. The only advantages I see are reduced unwanted astigmatism and skew
    distortion compared to traditional progressives, and more plus power higher in
    the corridor.

    I was hoping that the power change would be over the entire lens like the
    Superfocus (was Trufocus) product, allowing for good focus at eye level for
    desktop monitors and other objects. On paper, this lens seems to have more real
    world functionality than the emPower. However, the separate fluid filled
    membrane may have inconsistent optics, and may scratch easily.

    I'd have to say that the emPower and Superfocus are still not ready for prime
    time, but early adopters with somewhat deep pockets might want to give it a try,
    although disappointment seems likely once the novelty wears off.

    Robert Martellaro
    Roberts Optical Ltd.
    Wauwatosa Wi.
    "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself."
    - Richard Feynman
    Robert Martellaro, Jan 17, 2011
  4. Neil Brooks

    Neil Brooks Guest

    I have to imagine that your take is spot-on, Robert.

    I'm always fascinated, though, at the direction optics are taking.

    But ... like anything that runs on batteries .... patience usually
    brings the consumer a MUCH better product, and at a MUCH lower cost.

    But as somebody with a fairly wide range of needed over-Rx, I'm
    watching these offerings pretty closely. Infinitely variable (within
    a given range) add has some inherent appeal to me !
    Neil Brooks, Jan 18, 2011
  5. It's the best I have for the moment. Probably about 80% accurate, which is
    pretty good considering the venue.
    Not much has changed with ophthalmic optics over the last 50 to 70 years. The
    patent for fluid lenses dates back to 1918!

    The uniqueness of each lens precludes rapid advances that have been common with
    electronics. Look for the autofocus systems to become more streamlined and
    effective though.
    Electro-active elements seem to hold the most promise.


    Robert Martellaro
    Roberts Optical Ltd.
    Wauwatosa Wi.
    "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself."
    - Richard Feynman
    Robert Martellaro, Jan 19, 2011
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