A NEW device may be joining smartphones, iPads and music players that you have to charge overnight: electronic eyeglasses. These glasses have tiny batteries, microchips and assorted electronics to turn reading power on when you need it and off when you don’t.
Traditionally, people who hit their 40s often need extra optical help as farsightedness sets in. They may buy bifocals or no-line progressive lenses. But such glasses have a drawback: the lenses that magnify fine print also blur objects more than an arm’s length away when a wearer looks down, distorting the view when on a staircase, for example, or when swinging at a golf ball.
The new electronic spectacles, called emPower, are intended to handle that problem with an unusual insert in the bottom part of the lenses: liquid crystals, cousins to the familiar ones in television displays. The crystals change how the lenses refract or bend light, just as varying levels of thickness do in traditional glasses.
To call up reading power in the new glasses, users touch the side of the frame. Batteries in the frame send along a current that changes the orientation of molecules in the crystals. Touch the side of the frame again, and the reading power disappears. Turn it off to hit a golf ball; turn it on to read the scorecard.
Of course, you’ll have to remember to charge them, a nuisance required by no ordinary pair of glasses. The charge lasts two to three days, said Larry Rodriguez, an executive at PixelOptics.
But you won’t have to worry if you drop them in the water. “Wipe them off and they should be fine,” he says, although they may require recharging.
The glasses have a parts list associated more with iPods than with optics. The transparent layer of liquid crystals and its electrode array are buried beneath the front surface of the lenses. The eyeglass frames have tiny microchips, rechargeable batteries and wires that supply electricity to the lenses. There are also built-in accelerometers, devices that sense the downward bend of a head, as though to look at a page, that can switch on the reading power automatically.
Although the eyeglasses are loaded with electronics, they don’t look that way, says Jack Loeb of Fisher Island, Fla., who is trying out a pair. “They look just like ordinary, high-end glasses,” he said.
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