Superfocus: The ultimate eyeglasses

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.

Topic: iPad


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • Question

    So my father has seamless trifocals, which he detests. You mentioned driving with yours, is the speedometer just as sharp as the street sign 1/2 mile down the road?
    • In my case

      Yes. But most of my focus issues are items six inches to a foot away. I sit fairly far back in my car.
    • Driving

      I have worn these for several years. Jason is young enough that his presbyopia is not very far advanced yet. (It keeps getting worse every year until you are 65.) But the really powerful thing about these glasses is the unique ability to focus the entire lens to any distance. This means that you can set the optimal focus for any task. After a while, you don't even think about it, you just do it.

      For driving, I back off the distance focus just a little. This keeps all of the signs down the road in sharp focus AND the instruments on my dash. The only time I have to change the focus when driving is if I want to hold my phone close to read stuff on the screen. I don't do this while am moving so when I do this stopped at a light I simply flip the lever to a closer focus, read the message on the phone, then flip it back.
  • more benefits

    I've been wearing Superfocus for about a year. These are the best thing since sliced bread - I was a skeptic for a few years but now I am a true believer. I have extremely poor vision. I have worn contacts and bifocals simultaneously for a number of years. Now I wear contacts and my Superfocus. One of the main benefits of Superfocus, no more neck strain. Anyone who wears bifocals or progressive glasses will understand what I mean when I say 'neck strain'. That's the strain you get in your neck when you have to tilt your head up or down to get the proper vision/focus while wearing bifocals. With my Superfocus, my head is always level ! (disclaimer: I provide IT service to Superfocus, so I'm not completely unbiased)
  • My 2 cents

    Good info. I'll be looking into this one. Am wondering how damage proof they are since i destroy a couple of pair each year. Without them my freelacing writing career at <a href=""></a> will end.
  • The name is Gandhi, not Ghandi

    Mahatma Gandhi
  • Not for me!

    They are outrageously expensive, even compared to bifocals (where I buy them) and they are ugly as hell.
  • Why no solar powered autofocus?

    Even make the autofocus track where the eyes are actually looking, rather than just using what is perpendicular to the outer glass.

    Manually adjusting would be a pain. I got trifocals (top almost plain) for work because I got sick of seeing blurs when I quickly looked up from reading or the screen to speak to people.

    The obvious outcome is that glasses would come down to a few lenses with standard ranges, configured on the spot by an optician (or a computer directly from the measuring device) for each client. That would drop the prices due to lesser inventory and custom machine work with its turnaround time.

    The shapes don't have to stay circular as they would eventually work out how to dynamically control focal length and astigmatism correction by manipulating elastic opticals in 3D either mechanically, electrically or magnetically.
    • Precision is key

      Patanjali, SuperFocus corrects power and cylinder to a resolution of +- .25 diopters, just like an optometrist does with glasses at your local optical shop. This means that there are thousands and thousands of correction combinations available. I want my vision sharp, so I am happy that Superfocus can continue to customize their glasses for each client. Tracking the eyes for perhaps PD changes to determine needed focal lengths to focus points would require too much equipment hanging from our noses, at least at this point in time.

      As the owner of an engineering company, thoughts are constantly going through my head about how these glasses can be improved in years to come. A couple of my thoughts are:

      1) keep the lenses round for engineering purposes (least distortion throughout lens area), but add to the frames around (outside of) the lenses to create more traditional shapes.

      2) continue to work on hands-free prototypes. There are many muscles around the eyebrows, perhaps one of which can somehow be used to adjust focus. I find that there are times when both my hands are busy and I wish to refocus. Of course, this would introduce electronics into a purely mechanical item, making it costlier and more succeptable to problems. But we engineers know by experience that this can eventually be overcome.

      Craig Olson
      Craig Olson
  • I'll wait until they become a fashion statement.

    On a serious note, can you set stops for various activities? It would be nice to change it to a preset distance for a common activity rather than trial and error.
    • No stops

      However, the action of focusing is so natural that you really don't need them.
  • Does it run Linux?

    Windows? QNX?
    • What are you talking about?

      Your lack of reading comprehension amuses me.
      Grayson Peddie
      • Re:

        Your lack of sarcasm comprehension amuses me even more.
  • Varifocals for me.

    I've worn varifocals (it looks like you guys call them progressive lenses) for about 20 years and the distortion you speak of I don't notice any more. I'd forgotten it's there until I just read this article.

    I had bifocals before and like most others found them impractical to use.

    I see these trufocals being unpopular with people who're 50+ because my god they're ugly. I do pay a lot for my varifocals though, about 600 dollars but it's well worth it.

    I couldn't be done having to carry around multiple pairs of glasses.
    • Varifocals

      I have had these as well. I am glad you are used to them. However, having all those different fields on a single lens makes the area of focus for each very small. The great thing about the Superfocus is that you have the entire lens in the correct strength for the activity you are engaged in at the time.

      I fell down my stairs due to my varifocals making the stairs look distorted and I broke my ankle which made it impossible for me to walk to 3 months. It was a terrible situation.

      Now when I walk down my stairs I feel very confident as my vision of the staircase is not distorted when I have my Superfocus eyeglasses on.

      Once you use these, you will not want to go back! I am not connected to the Superfocus company, I am just really pleased with this product.
      Laura Hastings-Brownstein
  • Better than My Crappy Progressive Lenses

    I am reaching the age where I need glasses occasionally to see really small print and after looking at a computer screen all day, to help with the slight blurriness I get. So - I went to the eye doc (in a mall), and since I have never worn glasses before, and had no clue, ended up with 700.00 dollar progressive lenses. What a waste of money! My cheapy reading glasses from Shoprite (grocery store) work just as well for reading, and using the progressive lenses while driving - total FAIL. With progressive lenses you have to constantly move your head up and down and side to side - awful, awful. I saw these Superfocus glasses on the Internet and was considering them. Certainly sound better than the progressive lenses I have, but the cost is about the same. Will think about it, but Thanks for the info! And anyone thinking of getting Progressive Lenses - forget about it!
    • Thanks!

      You and I are in the same boat (see my comment below). I'll be certain to stay clear of 'progressive lenses'.
  • I wonder if...

    It would be possible to combine an ambient light sensor or BluTooth widget, and an IR emitter, that would be able to do the following:

    1) If BluTooth widget detects "car", it goes on a preset for "Read street signs"
    2) If IR sensor is enabled, it autofocuses at whatever the sensor is pointed at.
    Ad Astra
  • New to Glasses...

    I'm in my early 40's and have never worn eyeglasses (other than the occasional sun glasses) but now am noticing I can't focus on closeups (like for instance, reading the date on a coin). I have no problem doing my job (a chef) but driving can be difficult as well as those detailed focuses... things that used to be simple.

    Does anyone know if these would be considered good for a first time wearer of eyeglasses? Or would I be better off just going in and getting my eyes checked and getting whatever it is the optomatrist (did I even spell that correctly?) suggests?

    Also, does anyone know if there is insurance available in case I lose or break these expensive glasses? Considering all the sunglasses I've lost over the years, it is a good possiblity I could buy these and lose them in a month.