New Technology: Eye See Benefits on the Horizon

EyeNational Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is funding two companies, LumosTech, Inc. and eVision Smart Optics, Inc. to develop special eyewear that could lead to benefits for both astronauts and many people on earth.  About 23% of short-flight and 49% of long flight astronauts have reported problems with both near and far vision that occurred during the actual missions, which creates obvious cause for concern.   One looming question is will these changes may become more serious, even to the extent of causing an inability to function, during a longer mission such as the expected three year trip to Mars?

Glasses

eVision Smart Optics, Inc. is developing electronic tunable smart glasses with re-programmable lenses that can change in real time.  This would allow astronauts (and earth consumers) to have a single pair of glasses that can shift prescription strengths with the touch of a button, and allow them to have optimally corrected sight throughout the duration of the mission.  They work by using an electric field run over the lens which is made of liquid crystal that is sandwiched between two plastic sheets.  The electric field causes the reorientation of the molecules and changes the index of refraction.  The voltage profile determines the strength of the lens, and the current plans are to allow changes to the profile both from a remote location, using software that you would be able to download onto your phone, or locally using preset voltages directly programmed into the lenses that can be switched with a button on the frame.  Eventually, the idea would be to make these changes automatic, so that the profile will switch immediately when you are focusing on a near object and switch back when you return to focusing on a far object.

Sleep             LumosTech, Inc. is developing a smart sleep mask to help combat the difficulties that astronauts have in adjusting their sleep/wake cycles in space.  The tasks that they are required to perform sometimes interrupts what would be a ‘normal’ sleep/wake cycle, and for obvious reasons having them at their peak awareness and alertness during these tasks is very important.  The mask works by emitting pulses of light while the user is sleeping using multiple, small LEDs.  It also uses a dawn simulator to help the user wake up naturally and feel more alert.  The mask uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery and one charge can power the mask for multiple days.  The software is built into a smartphone app and you can use it to program the sleep schedule you want, or the travel plans you have.  The software itself uses an algorithm to calculate a preset pattern of light therapy to help to sync your body’s clock to the new time zone or new cycle.  This has obvious implications here for those that travel between time zones often, or those with rotating shift work schedules.  The sleep masks are not yet commercially available, but are expected to be release later this year.  The current pre-release cost of a mask is $175.