The Future of Eyeglasses

  • BY Matthew Surrence

Moving sidewalks. Check. Robot vacuum cleaners. Check. Talking alarm clocks. Check. Speedy push-button cooking. Check. Live video chats. Check. Personal jetpacks. Check. Flying cars. Check.

All of these futuristic conveniences were depicted in “The Jetsons” when it debuted 50 years ago. At that time they didn’t exist. Now they do.

The Jetsons

What? Even the flying car? Yes, even the flying car, which exists as a hybrid car / airplane that’s about three years away from the market. Don’t believe me? Google it (after you’ve finished reading this blog).

We still don’t have George Jetson’s nine-hour work week (sigh). And you’d pretty much have to go to an airport to ride on a moving sidewalk.

But all of these things have, in one way or another, come to pass, not to mention some little ol’ things “The Jetsons” didn’t foresee, such as the personal computer and the internet.

All of these devices have changed our lives for the better. (OK, maybe not the talking alarm clock.) But other inventions, such as eyeglasses, despite some improvements and refinements, have stubbornly remained pretty much the way they were in the 20th century.

That’s about to change, with new generations of eyeglasses being developed or currently available that provide these amazing functions:

Giving limited vision to the blind. Check. Correcting colorblindness. Check. Automatically changing the focus of your single-vision eyeglasses from distance to near. Check. Downloadable glasses made in a 3-D printer. Check. Eye exams done on your smartphone. Check.

Plus the biggest change of all, which has gotten the most ink: Google Glass, a pair of glasses that are not actually eyeglasses, but a computer that’s worn on your face, just like a pair of glasses.

google glasses

You’ve doubtless heard about Google Glass, its innovations as well as its drawbacks. Even though it won’t be released for purchase to the general public until next year, it’s already getting some angry pushback from people disturbed by the invasion-of-privacy implications of Glass wearers being able surreptitiously to video-record or photograph them, who have coined the term “Glassholes.”

Google’s competitors, including Sony, Nokia, Microsoft and Apple, among others, are rushing to improve on a product that isn’t even available for purchase yet.

(Some software developers were allowed to buy and test prototype Google Glasses at $1,500 a pop.)

But other companies are creating specific-purpose computing eyewear. Recon Instruments, for example, is developing smart glasses for skiers, who will be able to see their speed, elevation and distance, among other data, right inside their ski goggles.

Another futuristic type of glasses is being developed by 2AI Labs. Their O2Amps are designed to detect changes in the blood flow to the face of the person the wearer is looking at. The blood flow indicates their emotional state, as well as possible bruising or other trauma below the skin.

Doctors and nurses would find this application useful, as would law-enforcement personnel, poker players and the spouse whose partner has come home suspiciously late.

angry spouse

However, none of these glasses are prescription eyeglasses that will correct or improve your vision. Google Glass and all of these other smart glasses will have to be worn over prescription eyeglasses or be configured to include the wearer’s prescription.

No, for innovations in prescription eyewear, the main focus, as it were, is on glasses that replace progressives or bifocals. Some people just can’t get used to having their distance and reading prescriptions (bifocals) or their distance, computer and reading prescriptions (progressives) in one lens.

These multifocal glasses will be right for them. They have lenses that go from distance to computer to reading vision all at the touch of a button, slider or dial, like the focus knob on a pair of binoculars.

Here’s how it works.

A pair of glasses is outfitted with outer and inner lenses. The outer lens has distance vision, and the inner lens contains liquid. One company uses a slider on the bridge of the eyeglasses that activates the inner, liquid-containing lens.

By adjusting this slider, you can adjust the eyeglasses’ correction to the type of vision you need: distance, intermediate or near vision. It changes the shape of the lens not unlike the way a makeup or shaving mirror can be rotated for a magnified image.

Another company is also using two lenses per eye. But instead of a slider, it is embedding a processor chip in the glasses to change the focus automatically when the wearer’s head tilts, or when the wearer touches a button on the frame.

Do you want to save money and share your glasses with your mate? With these glasses, eyeglasses wearers can program two different prescriptions, so a family member can wear them when the other person is asleep or wearing a different pair of glasses.

At more than $1,000 per pair, it is unlikely that these glasses will catch on with the eyeglasses-wearing public, which is just getting hip to buying their eyeglasses at steep discounts from online retailers.

Not only that, but some domestic squabbles might ensue if both parties want to wear the glasses at the same time. At least the high price should serve as a deterrent to an eyeglasses tug-of-war.

However, along with the exorbitant cost, there’s another problem with auto-focusing eyeglasses: Along with their nearsighted or farsighted correction, most eyeglasses wearers also have an astigmatism, which makes everything blurry if it’s not corrected. This is something auto-focus eyeglasses cannot do.

blurry vision

People with astigmatism may not benefit from eyeglasses 2.0, but those with colorblindness may.

EnChroma glasses use a coating on the eyeglass lenses to make red and green objects pop. But you’re looking at spending more than $500 for a pair.

The Oxy-Iso version of the O2Amps also decreases the red / green deficiency that plagues the colorblind.

colorblind glasses

Some people with more intense blindness than colorblindness, that is, people whose vision has been diminished by macular degeneration, could regain some sight with eyeglasses that are being developed by English researchers at Oxford and Cambridge.

These glasses use light-embedded lenses that create outlines of objects facing the wearer. The glasses contain tiny cameras and computers that can read the expressions of people the wearer is looking at, sending a green or red signal to the wearer that’s invisible to the other person, indicating whether that person’s expression is positive or negative.

But there’s no telling whether the expression of a poker-faced person could be read with these glasses, unlike the blood-flow-detecting pair.

How would you like to make your glasses at home?

You’ve probably heard about people making guns with 3-D printers. Well, a Dutch company is working on developing eyeglasses with prescription lenses that can be made in a 3-D printer. The lenses will need no subsequent polishing, grinding or tinting.

Some new-fangled eyeglasses are mostly for fun. If you were in high school or college in the late 1960s, you may recall light boxes.

Kids would hook their record players up to these light boxes, which looked a bit like speakers, but they contained little colored bulbs.

The bulbs would light up and the light boxes would change color, depending on the rhythm and melody of the music that was being played. All over America, kids would crank up the Grateful Dead, fire up a doobie, stare at the light box and murmur, “Far out!”

Now a startup is creating eyeglasses that will function the same way as a light box, only on your face.

The glasses, called DropShades, light up and change colors based on the music that’s being played where the glasses are being worn. Presumably the glasses, which feature slats rather than full lenses, would turn bright, racy colors during a rock concert but display sedate pastels when the wearer is listening to elevator music.
drop shades
Along these same lines, there’s a new kind of glasses being developed for those who want to be a character in a Beatles song, specifically the Girl (or Boy) with Kaleidoscope Eyes, a.k.a. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

Now you can be that person, with a trippy pair of eyeglasses made by a company called Future Eyes. These glasses don’t correct your vision. They mess it up, giving you the vision of an insect. That’s useful if you want to dodge a flyswatter, or simply space out. They’re not so great for driving.

Eyeglasses like these are mostly for artistic types, to help them see the world in a new way, to inspire their creative vision.

But one of the most promising innovations is not in eyeglasses, but in eye exams. A company called EyeNetra has created a smartphone app that enables you to do your own eye exam when you attach its eye examining device to your smartphone.


Finally, since the internet shrunk the four corners of the globe to a village, people all over the world can now communicate with each other for business and pleasure.

In addition, people of various backgrounds who immigrate to countries with diverse populations, such as the U.S., need to be able to understand and be understood by people who do not speak the language or languages in which they are fluent.

In this regard, Microsoft is boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before. The company is working on a nonfiction version of the “Star Trek”-inspired universal translator, which will instantly translate the speaker’s language to the wearer’s.

That’s how to live long and prosper!