The deterioration of eyesight is terrifying. As I get older, I now have to use my smartphone to photograph labels and other tiny text, then pinch and zoom on the image to read it. I recently received a subscription to Car & Driver as a gift, and discovered that the magazine's font size is too small for me to read.
For me, that's a mild hassle. For the millions of folks who have worse vision than mine--those who suffer from macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, and glaucoma--poor vision is absolutely debilitating.
Dr. Frank Werblin, a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley, was trying to solve this problem by developing retinal chip implants. But as he became aware of developments in virtual reality technology, he realized he could take a page out of their book to create something less expensive and invasive than implants.
The result is IrisVision, a set of high-tech goggles that you snap a smartphone in front of. The smartphone's camera feeds video to the goggles, and what the users sees are algorithmically-modified images specifically tuned to the user's species of visual impairment. The result is that "IrisVision helps the user's brain access the parts of their eyes that still function properly and provides enough information to fill in the gaps and remap the scene captured by the smartphone camera into a complete picture."
In addition to providing a clear picture, the goggles also allow the user to zoom in. I do wonder how nausea and safety concerns have been worked out.
My vision isn't yet bad enough that I'd be willing to strap a pair of these on, at least not on a regular basis. As you can see from the photos, the object is rather physically ungainly. This device could use the ministrations of a supremely gifted team of designers, but even then I'm not sure what they'd be able to pull off with the existing technology; Werblin's aim is to use existing gear to keep the cost low, or at least, lower than the alternative.
A set of IrisVision goggles costs $2,950. If that sounds like a lot, consider that retinal implants are projected to cost six figures. More importantly, IrisVision is reversible--if they don't work for you, you can simply take them off (and get your money back); the company has a 30-day return policy.
Along these lines, we also wrote about these hi-tech Japanese eyeglasses that supposedly allow you to change focus and zoom in. Sadly they appear to be Japanese-market only.
Mitsui Chemical's TouchFocus eyeglasses
Also along these lines: Did you guys ever see the Wim Wenders movie "Until the End of the World?" It's a sci-fi movie where a scientist invents a set of goggles that connect to the brain and "recreate the biochemical event of seeing," if I'm remembering the dialogue correctly. Anyways it's discovered that if you leave the goggles on while sleeping, you can actually record your dreams and re-watch them when you're awake. The test subjects unexpectedly become addicted to watching their dreams--I'm talking, like, heroin-level addicted. It's a pretty interesting flick.
A still from "Until the End of the World," the 1991 Wim Wenders sci-fi movie