Human beings are pretty darn versatile, but we still have plenty of limitations when it comes to the way we sense the world. Case in point are metamers: colors which appear to our eyes to be identical, but which are actually composed of slightly different wavelengths of light. While sensors can spot metamers with ease, our eyeballs just aren’t fine-tuned enough to spot the difference.
With an eye (no pun intended) on tweaking our abilities, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a pair of smart glasses that allows wearers to distinguish metamers, thereby seeing the difference in these colors for the first time.
“The potential uses for the device are really anytime somebody is trying to distinguish similarly colored objects,” Bradley Gundlach, lead student on the project, told Digital Trends. “Therefore camouflage detection, quality control of produce. and detecting counterfeit currency are all possible applications that would benefit from enhanced color perception. It might also be possible in the future to apply the technology to individuals with color deficiencies, restoring some if not all of their color sensitivity compared to typical humans.”
The glasses essentially expand the vision of wearers from trichromatic, in which we see three color channels, to tetrachromatic. This would be in line with animals such as goldfish, which are able to see red, blue, green, and ultraviolet light. They contain two color filters (the glasses, that is; not goldfish) which strip specific parts out of blue light spectrum. Because each eye is receiving subtly different spectral data about blue objects, the working hypothesis — proven correct — was that tiny differences in color would appear far more noticeable.
So what’s next for the project? “The current device works by splitting the short wavelength cone in the eye,” Gundlach said. “What this means, practically, is that it only works for splitting mostly blue or violet colored objects. We’re currently working on applying this to the green part of the spectrum, which is much more applicable to most things in nature.”
In other words, put Gundlach, principle investigator Mikhail Kats and others on the case, and we’ll have color-sensitive superpowers in no time. Just don’t call us Goldfish Man!