The ability to see the world in a broad spectrum of colors is more than just a wonderful gift—it’s a survival mechanism that humans evolved in order to identify both threats and food. But color vision also helps us read each other. Research by evolutionary neurobiologist Dr. Mark Changizi’s traces the development of color vision to the need among primates to understand changes in skin hue associated with different states of emotion or health. Flushed cheeks, for example, correspond to embarassment, exhaustion, illness, or anger associated with different levels of oxygenation in the blood. The ability to detect those states makes you more likely to survive. It’s an evolutionary advantage.
Building on that work, Changizi and collaborators at the human cognition research center 2AI Labs have developed a set of eyeglass filters that amplify the eye’s natural ability to detect changes in hues beneath the skin. The target market for the eyewear, named O2Amp, is medical professionals who could use the filters in examinations to pick up on cues about patients unavailable to the naked eye.
One filter would make veins show up more clearly, so no more jabbing the wrong part of the arm when a nurse is seeking an insertion point for a needle; another would allow doctors to easily detect trauma beneath the skin; and a third would apply a mood ring-like range of color associations to a patient’s blood. The blood of an anemic person, for example, would show up with a greener hue with the shades on.
While the glasses are currently being tested by medical professionals at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Changizi argues that they have more that just a medical purpose:
Typical sunglasses shade the world but also end up shading one’s connections to other people; this is exemplified by the way people tip up their sunglasses to get a better look at someone. Ourtechnology shades the world but not the social; for the O2Amps, one sees other people better by keeping them on, rather than tipping them up.
In addition to the healthcare applications, Changizi envisions a role for his new technology in poker, sports, dating, and security.