These definitely are not your grandpa’s specs. New technologies are making it possible for contact lenses to zoom when you blink, and for glasses to focus in concert with your eyes.

Blink and Zoom

At least for now, it’s safe to say that patients won’t leave their zoom contacts in overnight. In fact, the lens hasn’t yet been tried directly on the human eye. It is still contained within an electromagnetic system that’s used to change its shape.

But, it was tried quite successfully by people wearing electrodes stuck to the skin around the eye that measured the electrooculographic signals coming from within.

These signals served as triggers for the user to change the focal point of the lens, so as the individual wearing the electrodes blinked a certain number of times, the lens automatically changed its shape to that desired zoom factor.

The researchers hope that in the not too distant future they’ll be able to miniaturize their proof-of-concept prototype so that it can be positioned over the eye.

animation of zoom contact
The animation shows the lens changing its focus depending on the user’s intentions

Autofocals bring better vision to the periphery

The autofocal glasses developed by Stanford electrical engineer Gordon Wetzstein address the main problem with today’s progressive lenses, which provide little or no peripheral focus. This visual shift can also make it difficult to navigate life, which may lead to accidents and falls.

The Stanford prototype mimics the function of the eye’s lens. Fluid-filled lenses bulge and thin as the field of vision changes, and eye-tracking sensors that triangulate where the user is looking and determine the precise distance to the object of interest.

To validate its approach, the Stanford team tested the prototype on 56 people with presbyopia. Test subjects said the autofocus lenses performed better and faster at reading and other tasks. Wearers also tended to prefer the auto focal glasses to progressive lenses – bulk and fashion aside!.

Wetzstein predicts it will take a few years to downsize the system and make it stylish and energy-efficient. But he’s convinced that autofocals are in the future of vision correction.

This Stanford research was funded in part by Intel Corporation, NVIDIA, an Okawa Research Grant, a Sloan Fellowship and the National Science Foundation.