What would it be like if you didn't need your eyeglasses to clearly see your laptop screen or a text message on your smartphone?
Scientists at the University of California Berkeley are working on computer screens that would adjust their images to accommodate individual user's visual needs. Think of it as a display that wears the glasses so users don't have to.
"For people with just near sightedness or far sightedness, life isn't so bad," said Fu-Chung Huang, the lead author of the research paper on the display project at Berkeley. "But as you get older, your lenses lose elasticity and you cannot read things close to you, like a cell phone or tablet. You need another pair of reading glasses, which can be quite inconvenient.
"With this technology, in the future, you just need to press a button and the display will accommodate to your vision," he said in an email to Computerworld.
Users would input their vision prescription into their individual desktop, laptop or mobile device. Then when the user logs on with a password, the computer recognizes the user and automatically adjusts its display.
Researchers at Berkeley, working with scientists at MIT, are developing algorithms that will compensate for a user's specific vision needs to adjust the image on a screen so the user can see it clearly without needing to wear corrective lenses. The software will create vision-correcting displays.
The researchers have been working on the technology for three years.
A user who, for instance, needs reading glasses to see or read anything clearly on his laptop or tablet screens wouldn't need to wear the eyeglasses if the displays adjust themselves for his vision needs.
If a user who needs one pair of glasses to see things at a distance and another pair for reading, would not need to put on reading glasses to read her emails or Facebook posts if the display could adjust itself for her near-vision needs.
The displays, according to Berkeley, also could be used for people whose vision cannot be corrected with eyeglasses or contacts.
"This project started with the idea that Photoshop can do some image deblurring to the photo, so why can't I correct the visual blur on the display instead of installing a Photoshop in the brain?" asked Huang, who now is a software engineer at Microsoft. "The early stage is quite hard, as everyone said it is impossible. I found out that it is indeed impossible on a "conventional 2D display." I need to modify the optical components to make this happen."
The university said that the hardware setup adds a printed pinhole screen sandwiched between two layers of clear plastic to an iPod display to enhance image sharpness. The tiny pinholes are 75 micrometers each and spaced 390 micrometers apart.
The algorithm, which was developed at Berkeley, works by altering the intensity of each direction of light that emanates from a single pixel in an image based upon a user's specific visual impairment, the university reported. The light then passes through the pinhole array in a way that allows the user to see a sharp image.
Huang, who has not yet talked with computer monitor or smartphone and tablet manufacturers about the research, noted that the display technology could be developed into a thin screen protector.
"The current version is still quite fragile," he added. "It requires precise calibration between the eye and the display and it took some time to find the sweet spot for my own eye. But remember that Amazon just announced the Fire Phone with the super fancy dynamic perspective to track your eye. This technology can solve my problem ... so I'm pretty optimistic about the overall progress."
However, he said that at this point in their work, the technology wouldn't work on a shared display such as a television screen.
"In the future, we also hope to extend this application to multi-way correction on a shared display, so users with different visual problems can view the same screen and see a sharp image," he said.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is email@example.com.