Feb 132011
 

emPower glasses

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.

The glasses, made by PixelOptics in Roanoke, Va., will be on the market this spring — first in Virginia and North Carolina, and later in the year nationally, said Dr. Ronald Blum, an optometrist and the company’s president. The estimated price, $1,000 to $1,200, will include frames, lenses, coatings and charger.

Dr. Larry Wan, a managing partner at Family EyeCare Center in Campbell, Calif., tested the glasses with 10 of his patients, all in their 50s. He said they were a hit, for example, with people who had been bothered by blur as they walked down flights of stairs while wearing their glasses. “With these,” he said, “you can turn the reading power off, so they are safer and you don’t have that distortion.”

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.

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