Science

Eye-tracking, depth-sensing "autofocal" glasses keep everything looking sharp

Eye-tracking, depth-sensing "a...
Stanford researchers have developed "autofocal" glasses (not pictured) that use eye-tracking, depth-sensing cameras and fluid-filled lenses to automatically adjust the focus as needed
Stanford researchers have developed "autofocal" glasses (not pictured) that use eye-tracking, depth-sensing cameras and fluid-filled lenses to automatically adjust the focus as needed
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The current prototype of the autofocal glasses is bulky, but the team hopes that in future they could be slimmed down
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The current prototype of the autofocal glasses is bulky, but the team hopes that in future they could be slimmed down
Stanford researchers have developed "autofocal" glasses (not pictured) that use eye-tracking, depth-sensing cameras and fluid-filled lenses to automatically adjust the focus as needed
2/2
Stanford researchers have developed "autofocal" glasses (not pictured) that use eye-tracking, depth-sensing cameras and fluid-filled lenses to automatically adjust the focus as needed

No matter how good your eyesight, there's a decent chance that it'll start to fade at a certain point in your life. Presbyopia is a common form of age-induced far-sightedness, where the lenses in the eyes become stiff and have trouble focusing on close-up objects. Now a Stanford team has developed a pair of high-tech specs called autofocals, which use fluid-filled lenses, depth-sensing cameras and eye-tracking technology to make sure whatever a wearer is looking at stays sharp.

The most basic solution to presbyopia is a pair of reading glasses, but they need to be taken off to see at a distance. Progressive lenses, which have multiple regions for viewing at different distances, can be worn all the time, but have notoriously little focus in the periphery.

The Stanford autofocals are designed to fix those problems. The lenses in the prototype are filled with fluid that reacts to an electric current, becoming thinner and thicker to change the depth of the focus as needed. Working alongside those lenses is an eye-tracking system that watches where the wearer is looking, and a depth-sensing camera that calculates how far away a given object is, and adjusts the focus accordingly.

"More than a billion people have presbyopia and we've created a pair of autofocal lenses that might one day correct their vision far more effectively than traditional glasses," says Gordon Wetzstein, co-author of the study.

The team tested these autofocals on 56 people with presbyopia. The test subjects reported that the new glasses made it easier and faster to read and do other tasks, compared to regular old progressive lenses.

The current prototype of the autofocal glasses is bulky, but the team hopes that in future they could be slimmed down
The current prototype of the autofocal glasses is bulky, but the team hopes that in future they could be slimmed down

The researchers acknowledge that they aren't the ones to invent either the lenses nor the eye-tracking tech, but they seem to be the first to combine the two into one system to tackle sight problems. Other similar devices have used the special lenses with motion sensors so they change to the right prescription when the wearer looks up or down, while others have wheels to allow the focus to be adjusted manually.

The closest thing to the Stanford autofocals is a device from the University of Utah, which uses infrared pulses to measure the distance to objects and adjusts the focus of the lenses accordingly. But that didn't have eye-tracking.

The next steps for the team are to downsize the technology – currently, they're bulky like a virtual reality headset, which was a common complaint from the study participants. Making them lighter, more energy efficient and more stylish could help them become an everyday item.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Source: Stanford University

13 comments
Nobody
I got excited when I first started reading this article with the picture of normal reading glasses shown at the beginning. But when I got down to the part that showed the actual glasses being used it really deflated my expectations. Up till then I was only interested in seeing the price. I really don't want to look like a Borg from a Star Trek movie.
Username
To Nobody: Resistance is futile!
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The weight of progressive lenses is a big complaint. In 1993 I discovered the miracle of IOLs. I have "monovision" with one at infinity and the other at 24 in. People warned me against doing this. Best thing I ever did!
Ukliverpool
Like the idea but I will end up looking like the terminator. Great research maybe they could tone it down for sale in the future, here in the UK we have specsavers so I'll stick to to them just got my specs today from Kirkby branch if your ever around pop down
steve1605
Memories of TruFocals adjustable eyeglasses (see 10 Oct 2010 New Atlas) make me wary of liquid-filled lenses. I bought TruFocals, but the seal between the lenses kept failing, allowing the liquid to leak out. The company abruptly closed, leaving us who had purchased the eyeglasses with a useless $1000.00 product. I liked the glasses and would still be using them if the company hadn't failed. Meanwhile, I don't really mind having been part of an experiment in advancing technology.
Barnbaby
This is very interesting. I do not doubt that these will be available one day, and that they will look somewhat like normal eye wear. And, hopefully, the cost will be reasonable. I really hope I live long enough to see all of this happen.
TechGazer
The picture in the article misled me too. Maybe their media expert saw the borg picture, realized it wouldn't get attention, and switched it. Bait and switch. I clicked on the article to see how they'd managed to put autofocal function into the glasses shown. I expect eye-correction technology will outpace shrinking autofocus glasses.
ljaques
I had a duplicitous patient manager wrangle me into a pair of progressive lenses once. She said "It'll take about a week to get used to them." Two weeks later, with a sore neck, headache, and sore eyes, I took them back to the office and demanded bifocals. I'm an active senior with asstigmatism, and with no prescription over 80% of the lens, I couldn't see my feet or rear view mirrors and had to turn my head for every glance. I have a feeling that these lovely geeky steampunk-meets-WallE head coverings would produce the same gigantic holes in my vision. PASS. The sad thing is that this was released extremely prematurely, a marketing nightmare.
Bill Bennett
To Nobody, I agree 100%.
aksdad
Or you could have surgery to replace your lens with a multifocal intraocular lens (IOL). Takes about 15 minutes, costs a lot ($5,000+ per eye), but it's a simple surgery done regularly as part of the millions of cataract surgeries done every year. But you'll have to forego the awe-inspiring Robocop headset and Maz Kanata goggles.