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Apple Glass could potentially be used by people who need vision correction, with lenses that adjust to correct the wearer’s vision.
The concept of smart glasses runs into a problem when it comes to people who normally wear glasses to see. Those who can wear contact lenses could use a typical smartglass setup without too much trouble, but those who must wear glasses may find themselves in trouble.
Besides wearing the gear so that they work through their existing glasses, it’s also likely that smart glasses with corrective lenses will need to be produced in order to have a more typical user experience. The latter option could potentially become expensive, driving up the price of smart glasses in this case.
Glasses wearers also face issues when using VR headsets, as their glasses may not fit comfortably in the confined enclosure. Some VR headsets offer the ability to add prescription lenses to a setup, but this particular headset cannot be used by others without considerable reconfiguration.
In a patent granted to Apple on Tuesday titled “Tunable and Foveatized Lens Systems,” Apple suggests that smart glasses or a headset could potentially adjust its lenses to correct the wearer’s vision. Indeed, the material would be usable without obliging the user to wear glasses with corrective lenses, nor to modify in the long term the configuration which cannot be modified quickly.
Apple’s proposal is to use a lens stack for each eye, which can be an adjustable liquid crystal lens with an adjustable non-liquid crystal lens, such as a liquid-filled lens or an Alvarez lens. The liquid crystal lens could comprise several cells filled with a voltage modulated optical material, sandwiched between transparent substrates and surrounded by electrodes.
Electrodes are used to apply power to the optical material, adjusting its phase profile and therefore the way it passes light. Multiple layers of electrodes can be used, with three or more orientations allowing the layer to be adjusted very precisely, depending on the vision corrections required.
The system could also use eye tracking to provide more advanced adjustment to the user’s vision. Specifically, he could adjust the lens to the point where it intersects the user’s line of gaze.
The patent proposes that conditions such as presbyopia could make such an arrangement useful, as the system can correct an impairment in the user’s ability to focus on distant objects by “applying separate optical power”. Apple believes that limiting the range of adjustment can “reduce disorienting visual sensations caused by changes in magnification.”
The technique could also help static or focus-dependent optical defects called “higher order aberrations” that cannot be corrected easily with static prescription lenses. Variable phase lenses that follow the user’s gaze could potentially provide some correction to that user’s vision.
Apple files numerous patent applications each week, but while the existence of a patent indicates areas of interest to the company’s research and development teams, it does not guarantee its appearance in a future product or service.
Apple is currently believed to be working on a series of head-mounted devices, starting with a VR or AR headset that could launch in 2022. It could then be followed by smart glasses with AR capabilities, known as the name of Apple Glass, which could land in 2025.
This is not the first time that Apple has considered correcting vision with adjustable lenses. In December 2020, he was granted a patent for an “electronic device with a tunable lens”, using lenses with fluid reservoirs to adjust the physical dimensions of a lens in a device.
The June 2020 “Head-Mounted Device for Restraining a Portable Electronic Device with Display” featured smart glasses that held a device like an iPhone close to the user’s eyes. Adjustable elements would allow the lenses to work for those who normally require corrective lenses, but could revert to a standard profile for others with normal vision.
In July 2019, Apple was granted a patent for an “augmented reality device for distorting images”, which took advantage of imaging sensors to adjust an image in an AR display. Rather than creating special lenses, the goal was to allow users with blind spots in their vision to see everything within that blind spot, by adjusting a digital image to show content around the affected region.