Health Alert: Smart sunglasses

NATIONAL - People who wear sunglasses may have a hard time adjusting to sudden changes in light conditions, like when going indoors. Now researchers are working on a pair of sunglasses that can quickly make an automatic adjustment between bright and darker environments.

Researchers at the University of Washington are developing the next generation of sunglasses, using smart materials that can change color and transparency in seconds.

Keith Ritala says, "The chemistry behind the science here is one that uses materials that are in the classification of smart materials. They're actually polymer materials and they can change color when they're subjected to electricity."

In a prototype of the smart sunglasses, each lens is coated with the polymer, allowing the changes when a switch, powered by a watch battery, sends an electrical current through the smart material.

Ritala says, "The real value of this technology is not in just that it changes color quickly, but also that it's been developed in three different colors: red, green, blue. And so those colors are available as well as any combinations of those colors. So that you might have a pair of sunglasses where the color matches the color of your shoes, or your dress, or your shirt that you're wearing at the time."

The different colors will offer fashion options while the smart lenses will offer sun protection.

Andrea Tombros, an engineer not connected to the project, agreed to give them a test run. "It's blue, and the, it's just as sharp as regular glasses. It doesn't look fuzzy."

Commercial production of smart sunglasses is still a couple years away, but for those in a hurry to see the future, consider yourself "enlightened."

The future price tag for these high-tech shades will probably be in the range of $100 to $150. A single, small battery will power as many as 10,000 changes in color and transparency. One color can last up to 30 days.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle