Both the Air Force and Army have subsidized inventor Chris Mullin’s efforts through annual six-figure Small Business Innovation Research contracts that he’s won for the past six years. The military initially pushed the design toward darker lenses, but when they asked for clear lens options, Mullin recognized other potential markets. The glasses currently use batteries, but Mullin imagines one day offering solar-powered units. The inventor estimates that he’s about $5 million away from an initial run of 24,000 consumer glasses he says he could have built in about one year. He estimates the initial product could hit the market at a retail price close to $500. If the technology is met with demand, Mullin believes the cost of the technology could drop, allowing prices to fall closer to $200/pair.
Inventor Chris Mullin, with help from the Air Force, is developing smart sunglasses that identify the brightest spots in a wearer’s field of view, dynamically darken that specific area, and follow the light source, leaving the rest of the view less affected. The glasses work by putting liquid crystal displays in the lenses themselves. That technology is coupled with a pinhole camera sensor and programming built into the frame. Together they identify glare and react by applying more sun filtering to the LCD in that area of the lens, even as the wearer turns his or her head. In practice, wearers see a dark non-opaque spot hovering over the sun, or any other source of glare that exceeds a programmed threshold. The prototype is still relatively bulky and may challenge popular fashion sense, but the concept has earned attention (and funding) from the Air Force.