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Sunglasses smarten up to 'fight' the sun's glare

Lenses are actually LCD screens that, with the assistance of a tiny camera in the bridge of the glasses, can in just 50 milliseconds find--and create dark spots around--glaring light.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

The smart sunglasses, which at this point resemble a James Bond Halloween costume accoutrement on a budget, are (perhaps obviously) not yet ready for market. Dynamic Eye and University at Buffalo

Some people pay a lot of money for sunglasses that do very little. If new glare-fighting tech comes to market, they could continue paying a lot of money, but for sunglasses that actually protect their eyes from the sun's harsh glare.

Since 2003, when he founded Dynamic Eye, entrepreneur Chris Mullin has been working on eyewear tech that can detect bright spots of light and then darken specific regions of the lenses to block that glare. He has now teamed up with the University at Buffalo to bring to develop sunglasses employing this tech.

"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, who has been working with electrical-engineering professor Albert Titus to bring the speed at which glare is found and blocked down to a mere 50 milliseconds.

The glasses include a tiny camera on the bridge that snaps shots of the frames' line of vision and scans the resulting images for glare above a set threshold. If it finds regions that exceed the limit, it alerts a microcontroller, which directs the lenses--themselves LCD screens--to send extra pixels of shade to the targeted region.

The result is a 4- to 6-mm gray square on the lens that moves with the user to block the glare at any angle yet still enable the wearer to see his or her surroundings.

A bit inelegant, sure, but Mullin suggests this tech could be useful for glaucoma patients who are sensitive to light, not to mention military and commercial pilots, and could even be used beyond eyewear in, say, vehicle rear-view mirrors and windshields to block above-threshold sun or headlight glare.

"A few circuits, a little battery power, and you can really fight the sun," Mullin says.