Berkeley company invents glasses that overcome color blindness



A whopping 8 percent of the population is colorblind. This not only means that approximately 26 million people in the United States have never seen the subtle color variation of a sunset, but that many of the motorists on our roadways are following traffic signs based on memorization of light placement.

So far, options to offset color vision deficiency, or CVD, have been limited. Most work-arounds use single filters of solid red or purple hues to provide a contrast. That allows those with CVD to detect differences in color, but not without a heavy red or purple saturation over everything they see.

EnChroma, a small, Berkeley-based company, has now created a product that allows wearers with CVD to see full, untinted colors — and it all happened quite accidentally during an Ultimate Frisbee tournament.

EnChroma Vice President Dr. Don McPherson, an avid Frisbee fan, first came up with the idea for CVD-offsetting glasses while creating safety eyewear for laser surgeries. The glasses being provided surgeons at the time were, as McPherson puts it, "terrible. They distorted the vision so much that surgeons would learn to adapt [during operations] based on the morphology," much like CVD-afflicted drivers with the shape of stop signs. That's not the most reassuring thought.

So McPherson and Bay Glass Research, his company at the time, created a thousand-dollar pair of protective glasses with filters designed for the exact formula of the laser wavelengths. This gave the wearer what he calls "true color" and "heightened confidence" during surgeries.

"But [the surgeons] kept stealing the eyewear and using them as sunglasses," explained McPhereson. "So I started wearing them [outside the lab]."

McPhereson noticed his color vision improve in the sunshine with the laser surgery eyewear. But he didn't realize their full potential until, while warming up with a color blind friend before an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Santa Cruz, his friend exclaimed that with the glasses he could see the field's orange cones so brightly they looked "fluorescent."

An inspired McPherson wrangled a National Institute of Health grant and recruited mathematician Andrew Schmeder to create one of the most comprehensive mappings of the human ocular system in the world using the computer modeling program Mathmatica.

After countless clinical tests held at their Berkeley laboratory, McPhereson and Schmeder created the Super Color Enhancing (SCE) lenses used in their CVD glasses. The lenses have a microns-thick layer of more than 100 different filters laid atop each other in what's called a dielectric stack. This allows for precise wavelengths of light, determined to the decimal by the computerized model, to be filtered through to the wearer.

"You might not see anything right away if you have really strong color vision deficiency," Schmeder noted. In clinical trials, those who worked in graphic design fields or anywhere that required one with CVD to overcome absent colors, it took up to days of wearing the SCE lenses before noticing color.

"Most people with color blindness have learned to deal with it in such a way that they question what we can bring to them," said EnChroma Marketing head Kat Dykes.

But the SCE sunglasses, which retail for $600, offer much more than just color vision to wearers on sunny days. The glasses can actually retrain your brain over time to see color more intricately.

"It's like if you're a chef and you go to culinary school, your senses of taste and smell get better" explained McPherson, who says he has "super color vision" after wearing the Enchroma lenses for the last 10 years.


And not from some government-appointed committee of bureaucrats?

I'm shocked.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

As usual, we the taxpayers invested enormous amounts of money on the front end, but when it came time to recoup some of that investment, the government gave it right back to the private sector, for free. The government is at the service of the rich, facilitating the socialization of the losses and privatization of the profits. You, my right-wing Guest, and I, and all of us, paid for the development of this breakthrough, but only the business owner and a few wealthy venture capitalists will ever see a dime of profit. This is how capitalism works.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 9:01 am

place? Without which government wouldn't have any money to spend anyway?

And yes, I'd rather the government used the money they have taken from the private sector to give a little back, rather than feathering the nests of government workers or throwing it at providing free everything for everyone.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 9:23 am

In the free market, these companies would develop things all by themselves without help from the government. Clearly it doesn't work like that. And it can't. And it shouldn't. I like government investing in infrastructure, whether that be health care or schools or help with research.

We need to be honest and acknowledge that role. Private enterprise has invented almost nothing by itself. Sure, some people build businesses based on minor tweaks, inventing clever ways to use existing technology, cheaper things, more clever marketing. But if you look at everything that's really *new*, from drugs to the internet, you'll see that the government had a hand in its development.

But if we acknowledge that we all build these things together, the next logical question is who should own the profits? Like I said, I don't mind my taxes going to help these guys make money off their products. But if they succeed, I want my share of the returns! I think it's only fair that the government gets a share of the profits to recoup its investment.

And note, this is NOT the same as taxes from the company. Taxes are paid on any and all income so that the government can function. This is over and above taxes. The government in this case is doing more than providing basic infrastructure for which we all pay taxes. The government is helping build a company from the ground up. The government is acting like a VENTURE CAPITALIST. In fact, the government is more GENEROUS than the VC's who this company turned to for funding after it was clear they had a profit-making idea. Note that the VC's didn't want anything to do with them until they had a product to market. The GOVERNMENT, OTOH, funded them from scratch.

So... I want the government to get the same deal as a venture capitalist -a stake in the ownership and a share of the profits. Why not? It's only fair to you and me, the ultimate "angel investors" who helped build this company.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 9:57 pm

Totally untrue- the government will reap much more back from this investment than it put in. All of the employees pay taxes, the company pays taxes, etc etc.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 12, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

Totally untrue- the government will reap much more back from this investment than it put in. All of the employees pay taxes, the company pays taxes, the vendors pay taxes etc etc.

SBIR grants help drive the economy. Its like both the far right and left dont understand the idea that investment involves putting up cash first. Trickle down economics has nothing on trickle up to the government.

Posted by Tony on Dec. 12, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

Actually the NIH gave us grants to do the basic science research behind the invention. The private sector gave us the money to commercialize it once we could prove we had something besides a theory.

Posted by EnChroma on Nov. 05, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

And, I can truly say they have changed my life for the better. It's an amazing world out there. Thank you, Enchroma!

Posted by Jellyroll Baby on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 8:16 am

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