Sunglasses that detect bright spots of light and darken specific parts of the lens to protect sunglasses wearers from blinding glare have been developed in a joint effort with the University at Buffalo (UB).
Inventor Chris Mullin teamed up with a UB professor of electrical engineering, SPIE member Albert Titus to develop the smart shades. Although they are not yet ready for the consumer market, they are garnering significant attention: they were named in June one of Popular Science's top 10 inventions of 2011.
"Our products let users see more in glare situations than ever before, because they reduce direct glare 10 to 100 times more than any other sunglasses," says Mullin, adding, "when there is no glare, it's just a pair of sunglasses." Mullin is the founder and CEO of Dynamic Eye, a company he created in 2003, and has since worked with UB's Titus on producing state-of-the-art sunglasses that combine sensors and miniaturized electronics to identify and block bright glare.
Together, Mullin and Titus improved the speed at which the sensor was able to detect glare, at one point taking a prototype of the sunglasses to Buffalo's Delaware Park and testing them out on random park goers.
The glasses' lenses are actually liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, capable of creating dark spots that specifically target glaring light. A pinhole camera in the bridge of the glasses takes a picture of the frame's line of vision. The camera itself analyzes the image and scans it for glare that exceeds a certain threshold. The camera then alerts an adjacent microcontroller, which directs the LCD to send extra pixels of shade to that portion of the lens, displaying a four- to six-millimeter gray square in front of the eye. The square moves with the wearer to block the source of glare at any angle but still allows the surroundings to remain visible. If the sun moves, then so does the LCD spot. This whole process takes about 50 milliseconds.
The U.S. Air Force is funding new research focused on creating eyewear for fighter pilots and soldiers. The technology may also have potential applications in the automotive, recreational and health care sectors.
Titus, co-chair of UB's Department of Biomedical Engineering, has contributed several papers to the SPIE Biomedical Optics symposium. Mullin is the founder and CEO of Dynamic Eye, a company he created in 2003.
Full press release from the University at Buffalo