Nike has teamed up with contact lens maker Bausch and Lomb to create performance-enhancing contact lenses called MaxSight. They're a tinted version of daily disposal lenses for athletes that reduce glare and improve visual acuity.
They block nearly all the sun's damaging UVA and UVB rays just like sunglasses, but their optics can also give athletic performance a boost.
The lenses come in amber for sports like baseball and tennis where the wearer must separate fast moving objects from the background, and grey-green for sports like golf, where the background environment is what's visually important. Both colors filter out a significant amount of overall light, but they also sharpen and improve contrast, so they have a brightening effect, says Alan Reichow, who invented the lenses and is a sports vision consultant for Nike.
The lenses make objects appear sharper by eliminating 90 percent of blue light -- the primary component in "visual noise." Then, in a process Nike calls "light architecture," MaxSight manipulates the brightness and hue of the remaining light transmitted through the lens. The result is improvement of visual acuity. The seams on baseballs are sharper, images in shadows are more clear, and every blade of grass has definition.
They cost about $60 for a six-month supply and are available through 2,500 specialists nationwide. Nike expects that number to double in the next three months.
"Theoretically, this should be able to double the distance that a person can see clearly," Blum says.
At the heart of PixelOptics' technology are tiny, electronically-controlled pixels embedded within a traditional eyeglass lens. Technicians scan the eyeball with an aberrometer -- a device that measures aberrations that can impede vision -- and then the pixels are programmed to correct the irregularities.
Thanks to technologies created for astronomical telescopes and spy satellites, aberrometers can map a person's eye with extreme accuracy. Lasers bounce off the back of the eyeball, and structures in the eye scatter the resulting beam of light. Software reads the scattered beam and creates a map of the patient's eye, including tiny abnormalities such as bumps, growths and valleys. The pixelated eyeglass lens is then tuned to refract light in a way that corrects for those high-level aberrations.
Blum hopes to have a working prototype within a year that is built to military specifications.
Blum agrees that improving upon 20/20 vision isn't an end in itself. But people likely can't conceive of the results they might get with his company's technology. For example, slight changes in lighting and air pressure can trigger pixels to reprogram, powered by a computer built into the spectacle frames.
"Most higher-order abnormalities impact vision only under certain conditions," he says. "We can adjust dynamically to those conditions, which makes a big difference in your ability to see."