The concept of Electronic sunglasses sounds like something right out of a science fiction movie, but it could actually be something we will all end up using, in a few years.
Anyone who has ever driven a car with the sun shining directly in their face, knows how annoying and problematic the experience of not being able to see oncoming traffic, or anything at all for that matter, can be.
That’s exactly the experience Chris Mullin, a physics postdoc, was having on his commute to work at a laboratory in north California. He had to drive almost 17 miles between his home and his work with near direct sunlight in his face.
He couldn’t see oncoming traffic and the glare and squinting induced headaches. His sunglasses were no help at all.
So like many inventors before him, he decided to come up with a solution for his problem, himself.
His idea: Sunglasses that would do what you expect them to do and block direct sunshine glare immediately.
Since his doctorate gave him a lot of insight into liquid crystal – the material we know from LCD screens (Liquid crystal display), he has decided to use such an LCD display on sunglasses lenses.
The sunglasses lenses are essentially an LCD screen. Liquid Crystal has properties that allow the material to be see-through.
A sensor on the nose bridge detects glare on the lens and if it exceeds a predefined threshold, immediately instructs the screen to display a small black square that blocks the glare exactly where it hits the lens.
As the all process takes about 100 milliseconds, the square of pixels can move with light changes, and with the wearer's movement, always keeping a position that would block the hardest hit of sunlight glare.
The rest of the lens keeps the views visible and allows sun to penetrate, as if through normal sunglasses.
The result: The perfect pair of sunglasses that allows the user to see everything he wants in natural light and avoid any direct sunshine glare, at every angle and on the move.
Mullin had the idea as a student but he didn’t actually do anything with it for several years.
It was only when he got laid off from his work as a research engineer, in 2002, that he has decided to start working on his invention idea.
The journey ahead wasn't easy. It took him 5 different prototypes of the LCD sunglasses and almost five years to manage to shrink the components of his invention to fit into a pair of sunglasses.
He is still not there yet – the product is not yet fully functioning and he has plans to create a plastic based LCD, instead of a glass one, to make the glasses lighter and shatterproof.
Like many inventors Chris Mullin has struggled with finding the money to develop his invention.
To find funding he identified potential beneficiaries from his invention – fighter pilots and soldiers who would be given a tactical edge by using the eyewear in the field, in changing light conditions.
He applied and received a research invention grant from the U.S. Air Force, through the Small Business Innovation Research scheme.For 6 years, contracts via this program kept his company afloat.
He also tried crowd-funding, via Kicstarter, asking people to pledge between 10$ to 1500$ or more in exchange for finding out when a the glasses will be out on the market to actually receiving a beta pair for testing.
He had 27 backers pledging 4,689$ in total, but the pitch ended without him meeting his fund raising goal of 20,000$.
Once he has a proper working prototype, that resembles the final product, Mullin also plans to approach commercial sunglasses manufacturers which could help bring the DynamicEye sunglasses to a store near you.
The dynamic eye electronic sunglasses could also potentially be of interest to the medical market, to help patients with conditions like glaucoma, that make eyes sensitive to light, or to the professional market targeting workers that spend significant time outside, like truck drivers.
But anyone who drives in the morning to work, and would appreciate a better pair of sunglasses, could be a potential buyer of the dynamic eyes sunglasses.