Along with facial expressions, tell-tale variations in facial blood flow that causes reddening and whitening of the skin can also give an indication of people's emotions. To take advantage of this, 2AI Labs developed a special pair of glasses designed to enhance a person's color vision to better enable them to perceive the oxygenation and hemoglobin variations in another person's face, and thus their emotional state. The glasses are now finding a variety of applications, from medical to security.

Evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi believes that color vision in primates evolved in order for us to detect social cues, emotions and the states of our friends or enemies. When conversing with a person, blushing indicates he/she is embarrassed and if the blood drains from the face, it indicates the person is scared or apprehensive.

Changizi says the human eye is specifically tuned to see blood, and the amount of oxygen in blood, right through the skin. “We can often tell when someone is sick, and even what ails them, merely by looking at them.”

So following this theory, he and his colleagues at 2AI Labs have been developing special glasses to visually enhance for the user oxygenated blood and blood pooling, and thus amplify the social cues that allow us to perceive emotions more clearly. The glasses are called O2Amps (O2 for oxygen, Amp for amplification).

Any product that is designed to help read people’s emotions is likely to find strange bedfellows and the eyewear has already caught the attention of law enforcement. The O2Amp glasses are currently under testing by the U.S Navy, with 2Al labs also testing a pair of mirrored-lensed O2Amps for use by poker players.

The technology is claimed to enhance what our eyes do naturally, by removing noise from the blood signal, giving a clearer view of patients, their health, vitality, and state of mind. So, the spectacles are now also being trialed in a number of innovative medical applications. Because the lenses also enhance detection of what is beneath the skin, they are being used to help nurses identify veins and amplify trauma and bruising that might be invisible to the naked eye.

Allowing people with color blindness to more accurately differentiate colors is another potential application for the O2Amps that has shown promise. The Oxy-Iso version of the glasses has been found to diminish the red-green deficiency that lies behind this perceptual disability. Currently this effort seems to have run into a hitch, however, because the existing glasses also hinder the perception of blues and yellows (which presents a problem for driving).

Despite this limitation, the potential applications for the O2Amps are many and varied. The Changizi O2Amps blog fields questions from individuals that are interested in using the glasses for their own unique purpose. Dating and other social activities make the top of the list, while others have inquired about possible uses in the field of visual arts.

“Indeed, we’ve found lots of interest from artists, although we hadn’t quite anticipated it,” said Dr Changi, who still believes that by far the greatest impact the O2Amps will have is in the medical field. “We’ve received great interest from medical professionals interested in trying out the O2Amp, and we’re moving now to get them in hospitals and among clinical staff everywhere.”

Back in September 2012 Gizmag covered the EnChroma glasses, which were specifically developed to assist people with color blindness. Unlike the O2Amps, the EnChroma sunglasses use a proprietary coating on the lenses and work by selectively reducing the transmission of given wavelengths of light, thus allowing red and green to stand out.

The O2Amps glasses are now available for purchase through the O2Amps website and Amazon for US$297.

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