Better Glasses - need them for my flying car!
September 11, 2021 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I was promised tech would save me. I read about Periscope Lenses and Optical Image Stabilization and then I think about my options for eyeglasses, and I feel like I've been left behind.

I'm lucky, I have only age-related presbyopia, so basically I can focus from about ininity down to 36 inches (~1m), but anything closer I struggle with (especially if the light level is low).

My solution so far has been to put reading glasses in every nook and cranny of the house, car, backpack, etc., but putting them on & taking them off all the time sucks.

Progressive and Bifocals don't work for my needs - I'm often doing close-up work where I need my full field of view to be in focus (e.g. an ipad)- having only "down" be in focus is not good enough.

Shouldn't we have, by now, magic glasses that adjust focus in real time? Some sort of optical, electrical, motorized, shape-shifting lens technology in the form of regular old glasses that can either (A) sense where you are looking, determine the distance and adjust focus, or just (B) give a manual focus control.

A cursory google search suggests there are some $30 pieces of crap on Amazon that everyone hates, and that no, actual good variable focus eyeglasses technology does not exist. Prove me wrong!

Bonus points if they are also polarizied, photochromic, and floating, e.g. something you could wear backpacking.
posted by soylent00FF00 to Technology (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First let me say I suspect the answer to your question is no, there's nothing new under the sun.

But I do also want to say that if you can't comfortably use your ipad with your bifocals, they are probably the wrong power or set at the wrong height. It should be easy and comfortable to see an ipad or an entire big book or whatever. When you are facing a mirror straight on, your bifocal segment should be at the bottom of your iris. If it is below that, your glasses have been made incorrectly, and they're going to be annoying to use.

If you have a trifocal (which might be really useful since you have only 1 diopter of accommodation, especially if you use a desktop computer or do other work at intermediate distance) the upper segment line should sit at the bottom of your pupil. The lower segment line will still be around the bottom of your iris.

If you want large clear near field of view, and especially large clear intermediate, progressives are kinda bad at that. I wear my bifocals all the time, I like to have all needed powers right on my face and ready, and I never have to think about it. I would hate to mess with glasses all day.
posted by fritley at 5:07 PM on September 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Have you tried multifocal eyeglasses? I can't vouch for them, but I've been really happy with my multifocal contact lenses (I have never been able to get along with eyeglasses, even when I had plain old myopia so I didn't bother trying multifocal eyeglasses and moved right from regular contact lenses to multifocals). At least for the contact lenses, your brain does the magic shifting.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:08 PM on September 11, 2021

Response by poster: Sitting here in bed, reading my iPad, with “normal” 1.25x reading glasses at normal distances, I would estimate the iPad is filling about 65% + of my visual field of my glasses. Eg the iPad screen starts about 0.15 from the top of my lenses and ends about 0.85 down. Bifocals and progressives that I’ve tried don’t work for this…do they?
posted by soylent00FF00 at 7:00 PM on September 11, 2021

Well, replacement lens implants are a thing. I'm an old with mild cataracts and my doctor is telling me that when I get my cataracts removed they can implant a multifocus lens with about 90% chance of the multifocus working well. I don't know if it's an option for younger people or not until after cataract surgery. I've been afraid to look into it because I probably won't be able to afford it. One of the brands I have heard of is Bausch & Lomb Crystallens. Good luck!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:13 PM on September 11, 2021

#1. Put your reading glasses on a lanyard or similar. You need them with you all the time. Glasses that are not with you when you need them are useless.

#2. You might be interested in Ben Franklin or "Executive" bifocals. They are half distance/infinity strength and half reading strength, with a sharp line in between the two. You can also do different strengths, like half reading strength and half computer strength, and potentially other divisions than half-and-half. Like you could have the lower 2/3rds reading strength and the upper 1/3 distance.

You might also consider this useful fact: The fovea, or area within your visual field where you actually have precise, clear vision - the type you need for reading etc - is surprisingly small. That is how people can use those glasses with tiny, tiny little lenses and see just fine. The center of their visual field (fovea plus a fairly large area a round it) is 100% sharp due to the lens. The peripheral vision is fuzzy anyway so the fact that it's a little extra fuzzy is of no real consequence.

Now. Personally I think that a lot of optometrists and opticians get a little carried away with this true fact. "Because the fovea is small everyone can just wear this little tiny lightweight glasses and that is all you need." No. Because believe it or not, your eyes MOVE. So your fovea is small but it is darting around all over the place, very quickly and ALL THE TIME. You don't want to and really can't just move your head to compensate for that. I personally like to stablize my head and look up and down and left and right quite a lot with my eyes. And also I need to do that exact thing in a professional context often. And so I actually prefer and wear very, very large lensed glasses and believe me I use every millimeter of that size. But despite that, in almost everything you do you could get away with a somewhat smaller lens area and still survive.

But the point here is that if say 1/2 of your glasses area were good for reading - not just good but really good - and 1/2 were good for distance viewing there is a strong chance you could make that work OK for maybe 70-80-90% of everything you do. Maybe even 95%.

Since you can see fine at a distance perhaps you could get a pair of Ben Franklin bifocals that are reading strength on the bottom and computer strength on the top. Then you put them on a cord and keep them around your neck all day long. Now between your regular eyes and that one pair of glasses, you can see clearly in almost every situation.

#3. "But I will look like Marin the Librarian with those glasses around my neck!!!" Yes, and Marian the Librarian actually needs to be able to read clearly all day long and instantly switch between that and excellent distance vision at the drop of a hat. And she values that practical function above the dictates of fashion that require us all to look like we are 20 years old in every possible way, and brands it "embarrassing" when you don't, even though for the actual majority of the years of our lives most of us are nowhere close to 20.

#4. The basic reason you can't do any of the things you mention very easily is that optics are very, very sensitive to precision. So you can make an optical assembly with lenses as large as glasses lenses and that could focus over a wide range and that is precise enough to provide sharp images. That would do exactly what you require.

However, it is going to be quite bulky and heavy, even just considering the lenses themselves. And then doubly so when you include the mechanism to focus and operate them.

No one will want want to wear this.

OR you can make a small and pretty light variable focus lens but then the optics are going to be absolute garbage and everything is going to be fuzzy. That is the $35 thing you can buy from the TV.

Why can't you use a really small lens like a cell phone? You can make the lens small as contact lenses if you place it directly on the eye. But then where are you going to fit the mechanism to operate the focus etc? And as soon as you move it out away from the eye it has to get big. Like as big as glasses lenses are. There is a reason glasses lenses are the size they are.

#5. Personally I keep a pair of computer-strength glasses at my computer and bedside, and reading glasses at bedside, too. Also, both kinds in my computer bag. In between those places I wear progressives, which work good enough for just about everything but are not really great or perfect at anything.

I have, however, used a computer and a laptop for days on end with progressive lenses. It isn't my favorite thing to do but it does in fact work.

One advantage I have, however, is I can read a cell phone or tablet size screen rather perfectly with no glasses at all. It is surprising how much of an advantage this is - it is my one superpower. (Many people go the last 20-40 years their lives without being able to read very small print at all. That is not ideal. To be able to read really small print they would need and additional pair of glasses stronger than both computer and regular reading glasses and they would need to have that extra, specially powerful set of glasses with them all the time. I don't know anyone who has actually done this outside of specialty fields like jewelers.)

I order all these various strengths from Zenni (online), which means they cost about $20 each but look completely and spectacularly sharp. You can buy "reading glasses" for $2 at a dollar stop but reading through them is like reading through a coke bottle.

#5. If some really could solve this problem they would become quite rich. But it is a very, very difficult one. Advances in cell phone camera technology are not really going in a direction that is going to help with this.

#6. One you can can partially accomplish variable focus glasses, is simply by sliding them up and down your nose. If you can move them say 1/2 or 3/4 inch in and out you might be surprised how much this moves your focal distance. But . . . this is unlikely to be enough to make computer glasses work for reading, too, or long-distance glasses work for computer, too. It will get you part of the way there but not all the way.
posted by flug at 12:15 AM on September 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was exactly where you are maybe five years ago.

Presbyopia had just started to be a nuisance and I'd started buying cheap and shitty reading glasses from service stations and supermarkets to compensate, but eventually the constant need to put them on and take them off and keep a spare pair about my person at all times just got to be too much of a pain in the arse.

So I took myself off to the optometrist to get something designed for me that I could just leave on my face the whole time and not have to think about managing. $600 later I had a pair of the latest in multifocals, with +0.25 correction for distance vision and +1 for screen distance vision and +1.5 for reading, with instructions to wear them for a couple of weeks to let my brain retrain itself and get used to the need to tilt and turn my head to get my line of sight to pass through whichever focusing strength was appropriate to the task at hand.

And after two weeks, I put them away in the bottom drawer and I haven't used them since. Just couldn't deal with the horizontal narrowness of the focal region for screen and book reading. In order to read anything off a screen window opened more than a quarter of a screen wide, I had to pan along each line I read by turning my head. It was literally a pain in the neck.

So I've gone back to shit-grade reading glasses, and you know what? They're not so bad.

Every so often I go back on eBay and stock up on another batch from China. They're wire-framed and half-height, so I can leave them perched further down my nose and look over the top of them when I'm not reading and hoik them up again when I am, and they cost about $1.50 a pair.

I've mainly been using +1.5, though I have some +1 and +2 scattered around as well, and if I need to do fine work close up I just stack them - a pair of +2 with a pair of +1.5 stacked over them gives me +3.5 which is good enough for soldering surface-mount devices onto printed circuit boards four inches from my face.

And you know what? The fact that I can buy three pairs of completely adequate reading glasses for the price of a cup of takeaway coffee and have them delivered to my house for free is a testament to the existence of some pretty fucking amazing technology.
posted by flabdablet at 12:40 AM on September 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

When I got to needing trifocals as I got older, I could tell immediately that the narrow middle strip of middle-distance viewing would have me bobbing my head up and down non-stop all day as I struggled to view different bits of computer screen. So I bought one pair of trifocals and one pair that are fully the middle-distance (i.e. roughly 2-3 ft depth where things are in sharp focus) lens. Now I spend the majority of my time around the house with the second pair on, since most of that time is spent doing middle-distance viewing - looking at computer/tablet/phone screens, reading, playing piano, or cooking. Without my glasses (or looking over the top of them), I can see almost everything beyond 3 ft to around 12 ft well enough for it not to be a problem. This way I don't have to constantly put on and take off pairs of reading glasses.

I mostly only really need the trifocals when I leave the house and need to be able to see at all distances, so I leave them by the front door with my keys. Back before I started WFH I would put my computer glasses in their case and bring them to work with me, and they'd function more or less the same as they do at home. At the end of the day I'd swap back to trifocals for the trip home.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2021

An Israeli company says they have invented glasses that can tell whether you're looking at something near or far, and adjust accordingly. I have no idea how practical this is and whether it will ever make it to the public.

Also, Apple has a patent for glasses that can adjust their focus (although if I'm reading correctly, they would adjust their focus once for each user, so that specific user wouldn't have to wear their prescription glasses. They wouldn't necessarily shift depending on where you're looking.)
posted by yankeefog at 10:20 AM on September 12, 2021

Best answer: There was a manually adjustable glasses on Kickstarter or Indiegogo not long ago...

I think this is one of them, and it's HECK expensive.
posted by kschang at 12:22 PM on September 12, 2021

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