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Smartglasses use eye-tracking to make sure whatever you look at is in focus


When you hear the term “smartglasses,” you might picture something like Google Glass. But researchers at Stanford University have taken a very different tack with their latest project. They’ve developed a pair of experimental smartglasses which could be used to treat a variety of vision defects using depth-sensing cameras and eye-tracking technology.

Called “Autofocals,” the glasses promise to keep objects in hyper-sharp focus at all times, whether they’re up close or far away. They do this by changing their depth of focus, based on what it is that a person is looking at.

“Reading glasses can be cumbersome, because you need to carry them and put them on or off, depending on whether you are looking at an object at a close or far distance,” Gordon Wetzstein, assistant professor in Stanford University’s Electrical Engineering Department, told Digital Trends. “While this works well for reading, it clearly does not for scenarios like driving. Bifocals and monovision gives a user clear vision at only two different distances. Also, monovision is perceptually uncomfortable for many users. Progressives work reasonably well, but they require a user to align their head with the object that they look at. This is problematic when you want to look at small objects at different distances, because it takes time to align the head and that is also inconvenient.”

Nitish Padmanaban

The team’s electronic eyeglasses mimic the natural “autofocus” mechanism of the human eye. Just as a healthy eye allows us to look at something and have it immediately come into focus, so too do the Stanford smartglasses. The prototype glasses use fluid-filled lenses that are able to either bulge or thin as the field of vision changes, based on an electric current. By using eye-tracking sensors to triangulate where a person is looking and determine its precise distance, smart software can ensure that the objects being viewed are always in focus. While the team did not invent the lenses or eye-tracking technology themselves, they did create the special software which brings it all together.

Wetzstein continued: “In a large-scale user study, we [have demonstrated] that Autofocals exhibit better visual acuity when compared to conventional presbyopia correction methods. Autofocals [also] significantly improve visual task performance, and it is also ranked by users as the preferred correction in terms of ease of refocusing.”

Given that approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide suffer from presbyopia, the vision-affecting inability to refocus to near distances, this could be a game-changer. Provided the researchers who developed them can find some way of making the smartglasses look, well, a bit smarter, that is!

A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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