By age 45, many people may suffer from an eyesight condition called presbyopia, which causes the lenses to lose elasticity in our eyes. Our vision requires the elasticity to help keep our eyesight focused on nearby objects. There are also some fixes like reading glasses, surgery or progressive lenses that can help to overcome the defect, and as of recent, there’s autofocals. Developed by electrical engineer, Gordon Wetzstein and his team at Stanford University, the prototype glasses are ideal for solving presbyopia. They even look and feel a lot like virtual reality glasses, but the team also hopes to release new and improved version in the future.
Autofous are designed with perfect clarity in mind, enabling wearers to focus easily and precisely in any direction they’re looking in. (Image Credit: Stanford, Robert Konrad)
Wearers of progressive lenses must adjust their head so that it’s aligned, symmetrical-like, with an object in order for the glasses to focus properly. Since progressive lenses have little to no peripheral focus, it can be somewhat challenging to navigate around the world. There is also an increased risk of people falling down and hurting themselves due to lack of peripheral vision.
Autofocals, however, may help to correct that. The prototype works similarly to eye lenses, in a way where the lenses on autofocals are filled with fluid that bulge and thin just as the wearer changes their field of vision by looking around or focusing on an object. It also contains eye-tracking sensors that triangulate to where the wearer is focusing on and calculates how near or far the object is from them. It’s important to note that while the team did not invent the actual lenses or eye-tracking sensors, they did design and develop the software that obtains the eye-tracking data in order to keep the fluid-filled lenses in focus.
Graduate student of Stanford University, Nitish Padmanaban, noted how other teams made an attempt to implement autofocus lenses to presbyopia but had failed. They simply lacked the support from both hardware and software tracking systems, and as a result, their glasses weren’t an upgrade from progressive lenses.
The team confirmed autofocals works exactly as it should. They tested the prototype on 56 people who have presbyopia, with each wearer indicating an improvement from progressive lenses. The autofocals performed much quicker and efficiently at reading and other tasks. Wearers preferred autofocals despite their weight and bulk, over progressive lenses.
Wetzstein hopes to also make the technology more light-weight and comfortable for wearers, while making them energy efficient and stylish, but it will likely take a few years to develop autofocals using this approach. They could also be the future of vision correction, eventually replacing eyeglasses.
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