Development of autofocal glasses at Stanford University

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Development of autofocal glasses at Stanford University


By Troy Southall

Engineers at Stanford University have developed the first prototype of a pair of potentially revolutionary glasses which automatically focus on whatever it is your eyes are looking at. As it stands, the prototype is bulky and looks like a pair of virtual reality goggles. However, Gordon Wetzstein and his team hope to streamline them down for later models.

Wetzstein believes these glasses could be a solution to presbyopia – long sightedness caused by the loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, occurring typically in middle and old age. This affects more than a billion people worldwide and although some people find reading glasses suffice to withstand the difficulty, most turn to progressive lenses in order to prevent surgery. However, even the progressive lenses come with their downsides.

The Stanford engineers are publicising their development as a replacement for the progressive lenses many people have today. Glasses with progressive lenses mean you do not have to switch between different pairs of glasses (such as regular and reading glasses), however, they do require you to align your head to look through different parts of the lenses for different results. For example, on most progressive lenses the user must look out of the lower part of the lens when reading, look straight ahead for distance and look somewhere between the two spots for middle distance. Not only must you train yourself to look out of different parts of the lenses, but in some cases these lenses can result in nausea and dizziness or even lead to accidents and injury. This is an argument Wetzstein uses to promote his newly developed ‘autofocal’ lenses.

The first model works in a similar fashion to the lens of a human eye; the lenses are filled with fluid and expand and thin as the vision changes and the eyes change their focus. Furthermore, eye tracking sensors within the glasses triangulate the precise point and distance away the eyes are focused on. Although Wetzstein’s team did not develop these specific components, they are responsible for intertwining the eye-tracking hardware and system software.

The Stanford team proceeded to test the prototype on 56 people with presbyopia. Their results seemed clear cut as test subjects said that the newly developed lenses performed more efficiently and made it easier for them to perform tasks such as reading. The only notable downside to the glasses was their bulk and weight, however this was expected by the engineers and clearly highlighted what they needed to focus on in the future. 

The team’s next step in the development process of these ‘autofocal’ glasses is to reduce the size of the technology within the glasses as well as make them more energy efficient and stylish to wear. Wetzstein is determined to finalise this new technology as he knows how it could change billions of people’s lives.

About the author

Troy is studying for his GCSE's, and would like to study Maths and Physics at A level in the future. He wrote this article as part of his week of work experience with Scientifica. 

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