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Co. Sees Need to View the Digital World Through a New Lens

There’s a new affliction out there, the product of so many people constantly checking their smartphones and other digital devices.

Labeled “digital eye strain,” the symptoms include tired, itching and burning eyes, and are generally prevalent among younger people who have are sometimes more connected to mobile digital devices than is healthy — at least for their eyes.

The folks at Carl Zeiss Vision, which maintains its North American headquarters in San Diego, have come up with a solution that they say reduces digital eye strain.

The new product, called a digital lens, is aimed mainly at people born in the 1980s and 1990s, who are looking at their devices dozens — sometimes hundreds of times — a day and may be feeling eye strain.

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“It’s really designed for younger people, whose eyes don’t need a lot of help with reading, but are feeling eye fatigue because of all the time they spend looking at their devices,” said Jeff Hopkins, senior manager for professional affairs at Carl Zeiss Vision.

The problem is that as people look more often and for longer periods at the smaller screens of digital phones, tablets and computers, and then look away at distances, it causes a greater strain on the eye muscles to focus, Hopkins said.

Nearly 70 percent of adults in this country experience symptoms of digital eye strain due to excess use of such devices, and the symptoms are most common at the younger age range, according to a recent study by The Vision Council, a Virginia-based trade association for the optical industry.

Lens 2 Years in the Making

The digital lens created by Carl Zeiss Vision is similar to the type of progressive lens that many eyeglass wearers use for both distance and reading viewing, but contain added focusing power designed specifically for viewing digital devices, Hopkins said.

The new lens was developed by CZV at laboratories in Germany, with significant contributions made by CZV’s units in the United States and Australia, he said.

It took about two years to create the new lens, including market research, customer surveys, testing and wearer trials, he said.

Wear trials show the digital lens reduced user eye strain by 50 percent, according to the company.

While competing lens makers have developed some lenses that combat eye fatigue, Hopkins said, “There’s nothing quite like this out there.”

The innovation of the lens comes in how the extra power for close-up work was incorporated into a distance lens, Hopkins said.

“The area of additional focusing power must be kept fairly low in the lens to preserve a very wide open distance view,” he said. “On the other hand, this area of power has to be readily accessible to the wearer without requiring excessive eye movement.”

The new lenses aren’t cheap. Hopkins said the average digital lens will cost about $350. Because the company just launched the product, there were no unit sales figures available, and the company provided no forecast.

Carl Zeiss came to San Diego in 2005 when the company and a German private equity firm acquired Sola International, a public company, for $1.1 billion in cash.

Following the purchase, Zeiss moved its Vision subsidiary from Virginia to San Diego and consolidated some optical laboratories. Today, the Vision subsidiary has about 9,000 employees, including 150 at its office in Scripps Ranch.

CARL ZEISS VISION

CEO: Ulrich Krauss

Revenue: $1.13 billion in fiscal 2013

North American Headquarters: Scripps Ranch

No. of local employees: 150

What makes company innovative: Design and positioning of an increased power to a distance lens that reduces eye strain for those using digital devices

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