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"Focal Points" -- The Discovery Files

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By using eye-tracking technology to automatically control a pair of autofocus lenses, engineers have created a prototype for "autofocals" designed to restore proper vision in people who would ordinarily need progressive lenses. The autofocals are intended to solve the main problem with today's progressive lenses: They require the wearer to align his or her head to focus properly. The software in these autofocals fine-tunes the prototype's ability to keep its lenses in constant and perfect focus, regardless of the angle of view.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

See here now.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Are you a Presbyopian? You might be. One of over a billion people with Presbyopia -- where the lens of your eye starts to lose its ability to focus on nearby objects. If you wear "progressive" lenses, it might be Presbyopia. While progressive lenses do help you focus, you have to move your head to line up the right part of the lens with what you're looking at.

Stanford University engineers have focused in on a concept that may help. Working on virtual and augmented reality systems, they intuitively combined two already-existing elements: autofocus lenses and eye trackers. Ya see where they're going with this? Prototype goggles that can focus on whatever you're looking at. No moving your head to line up the lens. You look, it focuses. Fast. In comparison tests, autofocals were the clear winner. 'Cept right now they're big and clunky like VR goggles but the team has its sights on lighter, more stylish versions.

The autofocal lenses work sort of like your real eye. Fluid-filled, they automatically bulge or thin based on eye-tracking sensors that determine the distance to the object of interest. The team's software keeps the lenses in perfect focus.

A clear vision for clearer vision. I can see that.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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