Revolutionizing multifocal glasses

Wearers of “progressive” eyeglasses, or multifocals, must look through the top of the lenses for distance, through the middle for intermediate distance and through the bottom for close reading. Many people find it hard to adjust to the limited field of view per distance and even get headaches from the distortions.

But if your progressive glasses could let you see about two years into the future, you might notice an alternative on the horizon: Omnifocals from the Israeli company DeepOptics.

Already in development for three years, Omnifocals are positioned to be the first dynamic focal eyeglass lenses ever created, eliminating distortion and segmentation to deliver sharp vision.

They will consist of two layers: a regular static lens for far vision and a pixelated dynamic liquid-crystal lens for near and intermediate vision. This electronic lens constantly changes its optical power to adjust viewing distance based on data processed right in the frame from two hidden sensors tracking the wearer’s line of sight.

The electronic lens will cover most of the field of view of the eyeglasses to enable sharp vision of both near and far objects through any part of the lens. That means millions of middle-aged eyeglass wearers no longer will have to tilt their heads up or down to see properly.

If you like this idea, you’re not alone. DeepOptics won the startup competition at the sixth annual Israel Machine Vision Conference in Tel Aviv last March, spurring the interest of potential investors and partners including manufacturers of optics for eyeglasses as well as virtual — and augmented — reality goggles.

Co-founder and CEO Yariv Haddad said the Petah Tikva-based company now has a working lens prototype and is developing a fully functional glasses system.

He explained that there are several approaches to implementing liquid crystal into lenses, but DeepOptics took a revolutionary approach, developing and patenting a method using a pixelated array. This approach offers several advantages, including the ability to change the eyeglasses’ prescription without the need for new lenses.

“Liquid-crystal optics have been out there for many years, but the ability to do good optical work with the dimensions required for glasses was not there until we developed our technology,” Haddad said.

“We don’t know of others developing the type of glasses we are, and that’s interesting for many lens companies,” he added. “Attempts have been made to do what we’re doing and so far we have the most promising results.”

The company CEO has a background in high-tech R&D management in animation technology, medical technology and electro-optics for mobile phone cameras. He met his two co-founders, chief technology officer Yoav Yadin and chief scientist Alex Alon, at Dblur Technologies, which was acquired by Tessera in 2009.

DeepOptics Chairman Saar Wilf teamed up with the threesome to bring his idea for dynamic focal lenses into reality. The goal is to make Omnifocals at a price point that will be competitive with traditional high-quality progressive glasses.

“The prototype proves our technology can deliver the desired specifications,” Haddad said. “Now we have the challenge of putting together a full system with the lenses and sensors. We plan to achieve that by summer 2016. Then we’ll put the technological challenges behind us and start working toward design and miniaturization, which will take about another year and a half.”

DeepOptics may launch an investment round in the next year as it continues its discussions with commercial partners for manufacturing, sourcing, and possibly distribution and sales.

What You See Isn’t Quite What You Get

I am at my desk, trying to read papers and look at my computer screen. Sounds simple, right? Ha. This entails putting on my reading glasses when I want to look at the papers. But then to see the computer screen I need to flip the glasses up and use only my contact lenses (contacts so strong, I might add, that I should have X-ray vision). Up, down, up, down, up, where are the glasses now? My son points out that they are on the back of my head. And I have a splitting headache.

Everyone’s vision changes with age. The big shift is the one I’m struggling with: presbyopia, a hardening of the eye’s focusing lens.

“When the lens of the eye loses its elasticity, it can’t adjust to the proper shape for near vision,” said Dr. Marguerite McDonald, clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University School of Medicine. And new technology makes it even tougher, as we struggle to focus on items at a variety of distances — everything from the minibuttons on our cell phones to the flashing digital signs on highways.

But the technological revolution has brought medical innovations as well.

You Never Needed Glasses Before, and You Don’t Want Them Now!

For the past decade, nearsighted people who didn’t want to wear glasses or contact lenses have been able to correct their myopia with LASIK surgery. But when it came to presbyopia, the laser procedure presented some challenges, leaving most middle-aged folks with no alternative but reading glasses. Less than two years ago, however, the FDA approved a procedure for treating presbyopia that uses radio waves to reshape the eye. Called conductive keratoplasty (CK), the whole correction takes roughly three minutes, and recovery time is about a day. (The cost — from $1,500 to $2,500 — is generally not covered by insurance.)

Here’s the unusual thing about CK: The procedure is performed on only one eye. The other eye, which sees distances well, is left alone. The brain selects the image — near or far — that it wants. “Most people’s brains are good at this, but some are not,” says Dr. Robert Maloney, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at UCLA. How can you tell beforehand whether your brain will cooperate? You wear a contact lens for one week to simulate the effect.

The risks of CK are minimal. Approximately 10 percent of patients need a touch-up to adjust their vision. Also, you may notice a glare when you drive at night (special glasses that force the eyes to work together can take care of that). And the procedure is not permanent; you may need to have it redone every few years as your presbyopia progresses.

You Wear Glasses for Nearsightedness, but Now You Can’t Read Small Print

You’ve got three options: a separate pair of prescription reading glasses; bifocals, which give you both distance and close-up correction, or progressives, which, along with distance and near correction, also give you something in between. But you may find progressive lenses skimpy in that midrange zone, especially if you use a computer a lot. One solution: glasses calibrated for the distance that you sit from your screen.

You Don’t Want to Give Up Your Contacts

That would be me. But my lenses just aren’t doing the job up close anymore. Some people can get by with nonprescription (magnifying only) reading glasses, which they wear with their contacts. But, again, this combo may not work at the computer. I’ve solved the problem (at least for now) with a pair of cute drugstore half-glasses that I wear with my contact lenses; this way, I can see through the glasses when I look down to read and over them when I need to look up at the screen.

Monovision contacts are another option, with one lens corrected for far vision, the other for near. They take some getting used to and, as with CK, they don’t work for everyone. There are also bifocal contacts — you get near and distance correction in both of the lenses.

You’d Love to Wear Contacts, but You Have Astigmatism

This is an irregularly shaped cornea (the clear, outermost layer of the eye); until recently, the only way to correct for it was with glasses or hard (and hard-to-wear) contact lenses. But new toric lenses have two curvatures — one for the astigmatism and one for your nearsightedness — and can be made from the same soft materials as regular contacts.

Keeping Your Eyes Healthy

• Have Regular Checkups
You need an exam every two years; make it annual starting at age 40, when your risk of developing serious problems goes up. Glaucoma (an increase in pressure within the eye) can arrive suddenly and, if left untreated, lead to blindness. Who should perform the exam? If you have a family history of eye disease, an ophthalmologist (an M.D.); otherwise, an optometrist is OK, McDonald said.

• Stop Smoking

You’ll cut your chances of developing both cataracts (clouding of the lens) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disorder that destroys central vision.

• Wear Sunglasses Whenever You’re Outside During the Day
And make sure they offer 100 percent ultraviolet protection; UV exposure can contribute to AMD, cataracts, and other disorders.

• Eat Right
Lutein, that mysterious element touted in “senior vitamins” (and found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables), may cut your risk of AMD. If you are not getting enough of the good stuff in food, take 10 to 20 milligrams a day in vitamin form, said Dr. Lylas Mogk, medical director of the Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center at Henry Ford Health Center, in Detroit.

“I Can See Clearly Now…”

Lillian Fazzi, a Los Angeles-based fashion designer and mother, is singing that old song. Until a few years ago, the 40-something Fazzi had perfect vision. Then presbyopia set in, and she found it difficult to see up close. This posed problems at work (“I couldn’t thread a needle”) and at home (“I had trouble reading to my son”). Fazzi, who didn’t want the inconvenience of glasses, consulted ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Maloney.

Maloney thought she’d be an ideal candidate for CK, which corrects for presbyopia. First, though, she had to see whether she could adjust to monovision — using one eye for distance, the other for up close.

A week’s trial with a single contact lens convinced her it would work: “I could see beautifully, though I found the actual lens uncomfortable.”

In December 2003, Fazzi underwent the procedure in Maloney’s office. First he placed numbing drops in her eye; she felt a very slight pressure — from the probe that transmits the radio waves — “and in three minutes, it was all over,” Fazzi recalled.

Recovery was just as easy — no bed rest, just antibiotic and moisturizing drops. Within three days, she had started to see more clearly, and at the end of a week, she could see perfectly. The only downside: Fazzi does have some glare when driving at night; she eliminates it by wearing special glasses.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I sew. I read. I look at the paper–and I don’t even think about it.”

Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.