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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 18:57 GMT
'Superspecs' could boost eyesight
eye close up
Satellite technology corrects tiny focusing faults
Even perfect eyesight might benefit from mirror technology developed by a Spanish scientist.

Everyone, including those of us who in a standard sight test are said to have 20/20 vision, could see things in sharper detail.

Conventional spectacles can correct for poor focusing and astigmatism in the lens of the eye, but Pablo Artal, reports New Scientist magazine, is using advanced technology - more commonly seen in spy satellites and telescopes - to fix the tiny focusing faults that affect even the most eagle-eyed among us.

The technology uses a mirror which changes shape in a subtle way to compensate for the tiny distortions caused by the differing composition of the atmosphere. It is these distortions which cause the "twinkling" effect of stars.

Completely unaware

The prototype spectacles use a low-intensity laser beam which is fired into the retina, the light-receiving layer of the eye.

The laser light bounces back and the distortions it finds are compensated for by the changing shape of a mirrored membrane, up to 25 times a second.

The mirrored membrane sends the visible light to the eye, correcting the eye's own faults.

And because the corrections are made so quickly, the wearer is completely unaware of what is going on.

Eye diseases

In tests, volunteers with 20/20 vision who used the system found they could see objects at a range of 12 metres - objects so small that they couldn't see them without the glasses at six metres.

Dr Fred Fitzke, an ophthalmologist at Univeristy College London, said: "At the moment, we don't know what other limits there are to vision - like the structure of photo-receptors in the eye, or whether the brain can even use the extra information."

In addition, the "superspecs" may be able to work in reverse and take very detailed pictures of the surface of the eye, helping diagnose eye diseases.

However, there is a downside to Artal's technology which may render it less attractive to the average glasses-wearer. At present, the number crunching needed to change the mirror's shape needs a processor the size of a desk.

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26 Apr 00 | Health
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