An old question about human evolution has yielded a technology that helps correct color-blindness, allowing people to distinguish reds and greens they previously couldn’t see.
The resulting glasses are called Oxy-Iso lenses, and are made by O2Amp. The way they function is simple: filter out certain wavelengths of light and enhance others, primarily in the red part of the spectrum.
Originally the glasses were aimed at medical personnel, who could better see the effects of blood vessels dilating beneath the skin. The glasses made the contrast between the skin and the red vessels greater.
The Oxy-Iso lenses were invented by Mark Changizi, director of human cognition 2AI Labs. Changizi was interested in why humans evolved color vision that is so good. Unlike other animals, humans and our primate cousins can see reds. A number of scientists over the years proposed early primates were trying to spot ripe red fruits. Changizi hypothesized that the ability developed in order to detect subtle color changes in the skin. Many emotional states – embarrassment or nervousness, for instance – show up in just that way. Meanwhile, paleness is generally seen as a sign of fear or bad health.
The first pairs of Oxy-Iso lenses went out last year, and Changizi started getting letters and emails from people who suffered from color-blindness that after they tried the glasses on, they could see the reds and greens that were previously invisible. Some, when they attempted the Ishihara Color Perception Test, were able to see the numbers.
Seeing the enhanced reds and greens, though, doesn’t cure the color-blindness problem. The glasses work in part by filtering out the yellow parts of the spectrum that distract from the red and green. So wearing them a person wouldn’t necessarily be able to see the yellow light at a traffic stop (though they’d know it was yellow as it is between the red and green). Some wearers reported that lime-green colors washed out and became invisible.
Even so, the lenses have a lot of uses. As one person wrote to Changizi on his blog, “These wouldn’t be specs I’d wear all the time. But if I went to an art gallery or something like that, I’d definitely bring them with to wear then.”