Superfocus: The ultimate eyeglasses

Summary:Designed by a brilliant physicist and computer industry pioneer, the Superfocus eyeglasses will enhance many lives, including my own.

When the iPad 3 was launched, I talked a bit about how it was a godsend because the extremely sharp QXGA Retina display, with its very high pixel density, made reading books and websites easier for people experiencing presbyopia -- the inability to focus on close objects.

The Retina display doesn't "cure" presbyopia. There are some new surgical procedures such as intraocular lens implants, PresbyLASIC and conductive keratoplasty, all of which may or may not be suitable or necessarily effective for some types patients.

Typically, this problem is dealt with by having multiple pairs of corrective eyeglasses -- one for distance vision, and one for reading. Some use bifocals or progressive eyeglasses, which is considered to be something of a trade-off in vision correction.

If you use any of these eyeglass products and are tired of the compromise, there's a new solution. It's called Superfocus, and it was designed by a brilliant inventor named Stephen Kurtin.

Kurtin, who did his undergraduate studies at MIT got his PhD from Caltech in Applied Physics, has been working in the computer industry since the late 1960s and has patented a number of inventions, including a number of imaging, audio and display technologies.

When he hit his 40's, however, Kurtin began experiencing presbyopia and thought about what it would take to solve the problem. By 1992, he had invented a technology called VariFocus, which allows for users of eyeglasses to manually adjust the focus.

Kurtin has spent the last 20 years perfecting the special Superfocus glasses. The technology itself is relatively simple to understand, but it has been a significant engineering challenge.

The Superfocus glasses have two sets of lenses for each eye. The lens in front is a regular prescription lens, which is magnetically attached to the frame assembly. The lens in rear is a sandwich of regular glass, plus a flexible polymer (a baloon essentially) filled with a clear saline-like solution.

When you use the slider mechanism on the bridge of the eyeglasses, the rear glass pivots on a hinge on the frame and deforms the flexible polymer, essentially replicating "squinting" inside your eye.

The results are nothing short of incredible. I've been wearing these glasses for about two weeks, and I can now experience extremely sharp vision regardless if I am doing distance vision (driving, etc.) or reading my iPad or Kindle.

To give you an idea of how impressive this is, I thought I was really blown away by the iPad 3's Retina display before I wore these glasses. But now I can lay down on my bed, read text, and focus so sharply I can actually distinguish pixels on the Retina display when I am looking at it close up. I couldn't do that before.

So, what's the drawback to using these glasses? Well, they aren't cheap. My prescription plus regular lenses (the company also offers various tinting and scratch resistant options as well as Transitions) came out to $729.00, including shipping. It can go a bit higher depending on which types of frames you choose and what options you add.

However, as I understand, this isn't much of a premium over owning regular plus reading glasses, or owning a good pair of bifocals or progressive glasses.

Another disadvantage is that if you have a large head, and you normally wear large aviator-style frames with large lenses, you may find that your peripheral vision might suffer a bit because your eyes may wander outside the reach of the Superfocus lenses. I spoke with Kurtin about this and the company is going to consider a larger lens option for bigger/wider heads in the future.

There's also another "disadvantage" -- they look really retro-geeky. As in, the lenses have to be circular for the VariFocus technology to be effective, so you end up having the John Lennon, Steve Jobs, Teddy Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Ozzy Osbourne, Harry Potter or Colonel Klink look.

Given that these glasses are likely to become popular with the technology crowd, I suspect that this look may very well end up becoming a fashion statement. Magician/Comedian Penn Jillette is the company's poster child. And while the company will never admit to it publicly, two very well known computer industry billionaires have been on their client list.

The Superfocus glasses also really need to be fitted by a professional optician when you get them, otherwise they will ride too close to your face and get smudged up too easily. The glasses are easily cleaned by rinsing them in soapy water, and should the front lenses get smudged on the inside facing the deformative layer, they can be removed, cleaned and re-attached magnetically.

Minor disadvantages aside -- I think Superfocus is a great product and it's going to revolutionize the eyewear industry. The company has taken the Dell direct-sales approach in order to minimize costs to the consumer, so you can order them directly from their web site. The company also does about 25 percent of its sales in the traditional eyewear channel, so your optician/optometrist may be able to get them for you as well.

The company offers a 30-day money back guarantee if you aren't satisfied, so it's not exactly a high-risk proposition.

Are you currently using or considering the purchase of Superfocus glasses? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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