A new technology called Variable Power Optics launched today by Oxford research company Adlens promises to revolutionize the eyewear industry, and replace the old varifocal and progressive lens eyewear which millions of people use to combat aging eyes. Recent reports suggest that over a billion people could suffer from impaired vision due to age (aka presbyopia ), where the lens of the eye loses its flexibility, making it difficult to focus on close objects.
The new VPO technology uses fluid filled compartments behind the lens of the glasses to adjust the eyewear to the optimum setting for a variety of ranges – in effect the user can instantly dial in their preferred optical requirement for the task at hand, whether it’s threading a needle, using a laptop, reading a restaurant menu in dim light or driving.
No more peering over the top of your glasses, swapping different glasses (and losing them) or craning your neck to get the optimum angle to see what you’re doing. The new lens system gives crystal clear vision across the whole area of the lens, with the flick of a finger.
The company is launching a new range of glasses called Adlens Focuss which incorporate VPO, and we visited the company this week at its new headquarters nestled amongst the venerable colleges of Oxford University, to find out exactly why the new technology was different and why it was destined to become the hottest tech in the ophthalmic world. Fluid filled lenses have been around for almost 100 years, but the technology has never delivered on its promise due to a number of hitherto intractable problems.
As you’ll see from our video interview with Dr Rob Stevens, the company’s chief technology officer, the breakthroughs from his team have come from crafting a lens which can deliver reliable, accurate optical clarity with a click, along with a shape which can be stylish and attractive for customers.
The ground breaking new system is the result of over two years of intense research conducted by the lab team working at its modest innovation center in Oxford. The company is completely self-funded, and has recently expanded into new premises as part of the roll out of a range of award winning fluid lens products to the global market.
Working for Africa
The company also runs a concurrent program to provide free fluid lens eyewear to Africa alongside the commercial activities, starting with an ambitious project to supply glasses to Rwanda. For every sale of an Adlens Focuss or Hemisphere product, the company donates a free pair to the Rwandan health ministry which then distributes them to areas of need across the country. This is not just a nod to corporate responsibility, it is actually a fully funded separate division of the company with its own management team and goals.
In the meantime, this launch of Adlens Focuss marks a new milestone in the company’s ambitions. The good news for the management team is the product has immediately been snapped up by one of the world’s largest optical companies, LensCrafters, which is part of the Luxottica group, owners of the Rayban, Oakley, Sunglass Hut and David Clulow brands. It’s a solid endorsement of the technology from the get-go, and bodes well for the future.
Focuss glasses will be sold through the LensCrafters retail branches in the USA at first, with a gradual roll out across the world as production ramps up and the product matures with the benefits of user feedback. The total market for progressive lens eyewear in the US is worth $6 billion, so it’s a nice target market to aim at.
Our early hands on with a prototype product fresh from the production line showed that the concept really works. Switching the dial reduced or increased the magnification as needed, and the whole process was super simple. Because the main lens is also tied to the customer’s prescription, it will also cope with astigmatism as well as conventional sight problems.
The final versions will be prescribed and shipped in the same way as current prescription glasses, but with a subtle difference. The base part of the prescription frames will include a standard distance vision set of lenses, and the VPO section will be added to this in order to provide the variable optical prescriptions for middle and close distance work.
The customer will also have their optimum set of prescription ‘adds’ set as clicks on the dial, which will make it very easy to switch between different levels in seconds. The customer may also set their own ‘monovision’ settings, by dialing in one lens for distance and one lens for reading or close work. It’s a common option in Lasik eye surgery, and once the brain adjusts to the different optical inputs, it seems to work fairly well in overall vision terms.
The people we talked to, including genial CEO Michael C. Ferrara and most of the senior executive team, are justifiably excited about the potential for the product. It’s clear to see (!) that this breakthrough technology could develop into something with massive implications for eyewear in general, not just those suffering from presbyopia.
The ability to dial in variable vision in an instant is something that can be used in many different applications. For example, the company already supplies fluid filled lens products for situations such as emergency relief. In a tsunami, earthquake or other disaster, often the first thing people lose is their glasses, which become casualties of the confusion. Adlens recently donated glasses to be used after the Japanese tsunami and earthquake as ‘share a pair’ eyewear for people to use collectively until they could replace their prescription.
The products are also being used in restaurants, as loaners for people who forget their glasses at home so they can read the menus, used as temporary relief for cataract patients suffering fluctuating vision following the operation, and for diabetics who suffer from continually changing vision through blood sugar variations.
So the future looks bright for the Oxford team and their dedication to better vision. Our overall impression from the visit was that this was merely Base Camp One in a long strategic road map to introduce innovative eyewear products over the coming months and years. The initial product is fairly limited in scope at this early stage, with only three basic frame designs available (although for both men and women).
But if their enthusiasm is any indication, the company will continue to develop the technology and fix the styling issues, and may well end up turning the ophthalmic world upside down in ways that no-one can expect. The Adlens Focuss glasses will be available for prescription during 2014 in the USA. Pricing has not yet been finalized, but is likely to be around $500 to $600 a pair.