The Amazing Story Of The $300 Glasses That Correct Colorblindness
Mark Changizi and Tim Barber turned research on human vision and blood flow into colorblindness-correcting glasses you can buy on Amazon. Here’s how they did it.
About 10 years ago, Mark Changizi started to develop research on human vision and how it could see changes in skin color. Like many academics, Changizi, an accomplished neurobiologist, went on to pen a book. The Vision Revolution challenged prevailing theories—no, we don’t see red only to spot berries and fruits amid the vegetation—and detailed the amazing capabilities of why we see the way we do.
If it were up to academia, Changizi’s story might have ended there. “I started out in math and physics, trying to understand the beauty in these fields,” he says, “You are taught, or come to believe, that applying something useful is inherently not interesting.”
Not only did Changizi manage to beat that impulse out of himself, but he and Tim Barber, a friend from middle school, teamed up several years ago to form a joint research institute. 2AI Labs allows the pair to focus on research into cognition and perception in humans and machines, and then to commercialize it. The most recent project? A pair of glasses with filters that just happen to cure colorblindness.
Changizi and Barber didn’t set out to cure colorblindness. Changizi just put forth the idea that humans’ ability to see colors evolved to detect oxygenation and hemoglobin changes in the skin so they could tell if someone was scared, uncomfortable or unhealthy. “We as humans blush and blanche, regardless of overall skin tone,” Barber explains, “We associate color with emotion. People turn purple with anger in every culture.” Once Changizi fully understood the connection between color vision and blood physiology, Changizi determined it would be possible to build filters that aimed to enhance the ability to see those subtle changes by making veins more or less distinct—by sharpening the ability to see the red-green or blue-yellow parts of the spectrum. He and Barber then began the process of patenting their invention.
When they started thinking about commercial applications, Changizi and Barber both admit their minds went straight to television cameras. Changizi was fascinated by the possibilities of infusing an already-enhanced HDTV experience with the capacity to see colors even more clearly.
“We looked into cameras photo receptors and decided that producing a filter for a camera would be too difficult and expensive,” Barber says. The easiest possible approach was not electronic at all, he says. Instead, they worked to develop a lens that adjusts the color signal that hits the human eye and the O2Amp was born.