Bifocal eyeglasses may go the way of the 8-track tape player. New electronic spectacles about to be released have tiny batteries and microchips that enable people who wear bifocals to turn on the reading power when it is needed and turn it off when it's not.
The new electronic eyewear is called emPower and will be on the market this spring in Virginia and North Carolina. The glasses are made by PixelOptics in Virginia and are estimated to cost $1,000 to $1,200 for the frames, lenses, coatings and charger. That compares to an average of $300 to $500 for a pair for regular bifocals.
An article in the New York Times outlines how the electronic eyeglasses work. The glasses have "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 of bend light, just as varying levels of thickness do in traditional glasses," the Times reports.
The article explains, "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 electronic glasses require people to charge them. A PixelOptics executive said the charge should last two to three days.
Last year, some 20.6 million pairs of progressive lenses, and about 16.2 million pairs of bifocals, were sold in the United States, according to the New York Times.
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," he told the New York Times.