The Eyes Have It

Electronic glasses might alter your perspective on what lenses are capable of

February 14, 2012

Once it’s charged, the battery in these glasses will last two or three days.

Right now, you’re reading. So if you wear bifocals or progressives, you’re probably pleased that your lens includes an area devoted to letting you do that. But what about when you walked down the escalator on the way into the Metro? Looking down at your feet, you probably saw only a blur.

That’s the problem with giving one lens multiple jobs. And that’s why PixelOptics, a Roanoke, Va.-based company, decided to develop a solution: “emPower!,” the first electronic eyewear. Instead of having the reading area on the lens all of the time, these glasses use liquid crystals to allow you to turn it on and off with a tap to your temple.

“This is as big as the invention of progressives. It’s the future of optics beyond a shadow of a doubt,” says optician Allen Cleveland, who works at Old Town’s Brahm & Powell Guild Opticians, one of the first places in the area to offer the newfangled eyewear.

Cleveland suspects they’ll be most popular initially among tech geeks and athletes — golf players, he notes, often have trouble playing in progressives. But there’s no reason a Luddite wouldn’t be able to wear them, too. Beyond remembering to charge them occasionally (a full battery lasts two or three days), there isn’t much that wearers have to do to make them work.

Don’t want to touch the power switch? Just keep them on automatic mode, and the reading area will turn on whenever you tilt your head to an angle that suggests you’re looking at text. The glasses have a built-in accelerometer, which is the same technology that lets an iPad know which way you’re holding it.

But unlike flashier gadgets, emPower! glasses try to stay incognito. “Technically, nobody would know you have them,” Cleveland says. All of the 36 current frame options are wide at the temples to accommodate the electronics, but there are a range of looks, and none of them appears all that different from other frames.

Tom Killam, of Alexandria, was one of the first customers to order emPower! glasses from Brahm & Powell. When his pair arrives next week, he plans to ditch the progressives he’s struggled with for the past year. “I’d worn them three times. I just can’t get used to the blurriness when I look down,” he says.

So, although the emPower! glasses are more expensive than typical eyewear (expect to pay $1,200 or more), Killam hopes his investment means the future is clear.

Lens Contact

Representatives from PixelOptics will be doing demos and answering questions about emPower! technology at an open house at Brahm & Powell (113 N. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-549-2828, Brahmpowell.com) on Thurs., Feb. 16 from 6 to 7 p.m.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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