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.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more