Electronic Eyeglasses Change Prescription On Command [UPDATED]

Had enough of having multiple pairs of glasses lying around for different activities? A new breed of spectacles modifies your sight for every occasion.

Maybe you need multiple pairs of eyeglasses for different situations. That's pretty wasteful. Or maybe you find that your glasses only help in certain situations. That's inconvenient. Electronic eyeglasses that change prescription on command may be the solution to all of your eye woes.

Developed by a company called PixelOptics, emPower electronic focusing eyewear does exactly what it sounds like: change prescription with help from a microprocessor that alters the transparent liquid crystal lense. The technology, which has been in development for years, doesn't come cheap—the glasses start at $1,250. But according to PhysOrg, people who have tried the emPower glasses are impressed. Daniel Quon, a California-based optometrist, explains:

Wearers of traditional progressive lenses frequently complain that the ground looks blurry when they look down, as their vision is channeled through the close-up portion of the lens, Quon said. That can make it difficult to navigate stairs or hit a golf ball. The first time he wore the new glasses and walked down stairs, he was amazed: "Oh my God, I could see the stairway clearly."

Adjustable glasseses are also being used in the developing world, where Oxford Professor Jonathan Silver's glasses allow people to adjust their prescription (though on a one-time only basis) by inserting silicon gel into their lenses, instead of traveling to an optometrist.

While we are beyond that low-tech version in the developing world, there are downsides to PixelOptics' glasses (besides the sky-high price). Since the glasses are electronic, you can't wash off the lenses with water. And the emPower's "automatic" mode could exhaust the eyes, since the prescription is being changed constantly. (Update: Clay Musselwhite, Director of Marketing at PixelOptics, tells us: "It's really quite the opposite—[emPower] provides the right focus at the right time depending on what the gaze is." In comparison, traditional progressive lenses can produce distortion and eye strain.)

But PixelOptics' glasses, which are already being sold in some Southeastern states, aren't the only kind of prescription-changing eyeglasses on the horizon. A company called Superfocus manufactures eyeglasses made out of a membrane filled with optical fluid. The lenses change shape as the wearer moves a slider on the glasses. The catch: The lenses only come in a round shape. PixelOptics' glasses, in contrast, look like normal frames. But for people who don't want to shell out over a thousand dollars for a pair of glasses, it probably makes sense to wait until prices drop.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • TJ Anderson

    The technology sounds interesting, but to use your own words out of context.

    "the glasses start at $1,250" "That's pretty wasteful."

    Not that I think expensive technology is wasteful, but as a society we frequently use mild "wastefulness" like "two pair of prescription glasses" as an excuse to pursue new technology that is just as wasteful. If you were to add up the numbers I'm sure you'd see that your second cell phone is far worse for the environment than 4 extra pairs of prescription glasses. I think the technology is great and very useful. Not only for people with multiple pairs of glasses, but to accommodate the fact that most people experience daily or weekly shifts in vision. Not just degradation, but simply flux.  The technology is also very applicable to camera lenses and microscopy.
    I simply think the author is over reaching a little by justifying this technology as "green". Unless I missenterpreted sarcasm... I doubt it.
    The only way this technology would replace an excess, or reduce waste. Would be if a "one size fits all" were developed.  Could you imagine that donating any pair of used glasses could be immediately used by anyone else. No need to go out and buy new glasses when you are looking for a new look, just trade with a friend. I don't think the technology would ever be cheaper to produce than glass. But there COULD be an environmental/economical impact eventually depending on the success of the technology.

  • evary toad

    very cool - as a person with terrible eyesight, I'm always looking for anything that makes wearing glasses a little more bearable ...