Technology 3 min read

Stanford Researchers Develop Autofocals to Correct Presbyopia

Screen grab from Stanford Computational Imaging Lab's Youtube Channel

Screen grab from Stanford Computational Imaging Lab's Youtube Channel

Researchers at Stanford University have developed autofocals for presbyopia.

Presbyopia or long-sightedness is caused by a gradual loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, and it typically occurs in middle and old age. As you can imagine, it’s a prevalent eye defect.

A 2015 estimate suggests that 1.8 billion people across the planet have presbyopia. Of this number, about 826 million people have near visual impairment due to inadequate vision correction.

In a statement to the press, Stanford electrical engineer, Gordon Wetzstein said:

“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.”

Although the prototype looks more like VR goggles at the moment, the team intend to make the subsequent versions more portable.

Using Autofocals to Correct Presbyopia

The prototype glasses are designed to address the issues with current progressive lenses, and that’s the absence of peripheral vision. Wearers have to make a visual shift, turning almost 90 degrees to navigate the world.

As a result, people wearing progressive lenses have a higher risk of falling and injuring themselves, says co-author of the study, Robert Konrad.

The Stanford prototype, on the other hand, works like the lens in our eyes. It contains fluid-filled lenses that adapt to the changes in vision. Also, the prototype comes with an eye-tracking sensor that maps where a person is looking at and determines how far the person is from the object.

Although the Stanford team did not invent the eye-tracker or lenses, they were responsible for the software system that maintains the autofocals’ perfect focus.

Smart glasses equipped with autofocals | Image Credit: Stanford University/ Robert Konrad
Smart glasses equipped with autofocals | Image Credit: Stanford University/ Robert Konrad

Now, you’re wondering why the software system is important.

Past efforts at applying autofocus lenses to presbyopia have failed due to the absence of system software and the eye-guiding hardware. In the end, the researchers only succeeded in creating another traditional progressive lens.

To validate their approach to presbyopia, the Stanford researchers tested their prototype on 56 participants with the eye defect. Findings from the test suggest that the lens enabled the participants to read faster and perform better in other tasks.

Aside from the bulk and weight, the wearers believe that the autofocal glasses provides a better experience than progressive lenses.

The Future of Autofocal Lenses

While the next obvious step is to downsize the technology, it may not happen anytime soon. According to Wetzstein, it could take a few more years to develop autofocals that are energy efficient, light-weight, and stylish.

With that said, the researcher still believes that this form of the lens is the future of vision correction.

“This technology could affect billions of people’s lives in a meaningful way that most techno-gadgets never will,” he said.

Read More: New Smart Glasses Design Could Bring the Tech Into the Mainstream

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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