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Input Devices Science

Glasses That Hack Around Colorblindness 97

MatthewVD writes "In 2006, researcher Mark Changizi came up with a novel theory for why humans evolved with color vision: to detect social cues and emotions in others. He built glasses called 02Amps to enhance perception of blood pooling. Some hospitals have tried using the glasses to see bruising that's not visible unaided, or help nurses find veins. But it turns out now that the glasses might be able to fix some forms of colorblindness, too."
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Glasses That Hack Around Colorblindness

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  • color blindness (Score:3, Informative)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:44PM (#42792113)

    Actually, most forms of color blindness is NOT due to a defect in the eye, but in the visual cortex. I learned about this in graphic design for my color theory class. When you look at a color for awhile, and then look at a white surface, the after-image will be a specific color. Whether you're color blind or not... that after-image coloring is the same. So red and green result in a different after-image color -- even if you're red/green colorblind.

    Anyway, yes, having red/green perception does enable you to see subtle changes in skin tone, etc., but the idea of TSA agents wearing them is a bit frightening. This is the same agency that up until recently was irradiating its own clients, refusing to disclose the amount of radiation, and causing cancer to its employees. They also have been frisking children and grabbing people's balls... they're totally incompetent. I'd rather not give them special "x-ray glasses" so they can misuse those as well, saying they saw something nobody else could and that's why you're now getting a lubed finger in your private parts.

    Other than that, Rock on. Good science.

    • Re:color blindness (Score:5, Informative)

      by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @09:01PM (#42792237)

      I thought red/green color blindness was associated with a defective gene for a photoreceptor protein, coded on the X chromosome. The defective gene produces an abnormal protein that responds to light in the "yellow" spectrum, causing the subject's retina to encode all red and yellow light as the same color.

      Given that the gene does nothing to nerve function or distribution, perhaps the neurological effect is a result of neuroplasticity, resulting from the brain getting identical signals from different neural bundles in the eye? (Eg, eye does a LOT of signal encoding before it reaches the brain, so a loss of signal fidelity in the eye will result in a difference in higher level processing in the visual cortex, to make up for it. This could explain the retention of the after-image effects.)

      Has there been a multidiscipline study conducted? As is, this data would seem in contradiction of the genetics implicated, and the existence of tetrachromatic females. If the difference was mostly neurological, and not the result of an ocular anomaly, then tetrachromats should not exist.

      • Re:color blindness (Score:5, Informative)

        by DrScott ( 4365 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @09:32PM (#42792499)

        Hereditary color "blindness" (which can run the gamut from a mild color deficiency to severe color perceptual loss) is most commonly due to defects in the photochemicals in the cone photoreceptors. The milder forms involve shifts in the wavelength that the pigment absorbs the most. The more severe forms involve the functional loss of one photopigment. These disorders are genetic in nature. However, there are also acquired cases of color blindness caused by neuronal damage that is post-receptor, such as in optic nerve disease. Less common is color blindness due to cortical damage, such as achromatopsia.

      • Re:color blindness (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @10:10PM (#42792753)

        There are two different types of red-green color blidness, basically resulting from the lack of functional red or green cones. Both red and green cones are sensitive to red and green, but in different amounts. Missing one type (or having a very low count of active cones of one type) won't make you blind to that color (i.e., objects painted with that color won't appear as black), it will just make you unable to distinguish reliably between the two hues.

        That's why color-blind "simulations" typically show yellow (because it's what you get by mixing red and green). In reality, most color blind people see in red-blue or green-blue (in terms of signal) - though both red and green overlap onto yellow and even onto each other at cone level. What those people call it internally (red, orange, yellow, green) is up to them; mostly they'll try to figure out (from experience) what a trichromat would see, and they'll call it that.

        If you look at a cone spectral sensitivity curve, it should be pretty obvious. The brain only gets three signals, but each signal is actually reporting a wide range of frequencies, and they all overlap to some extent.

        The OP is wrong, BTW. Color blindness is due to defects in the eye, causing one or more foveal cone types to be missing or inactive.

        The after image effect he mentions is from a study that showed that partially color-blind people (generally termed "color weak") can sometimes distinguish the hue of after-images better than they distinguish the hue of the original image. In some cases, this means people who are just (very) color-weak can be classified as color-blind by basic Ishihara tests. That's where the visual cortex plays a role (by making some hues more "relevant" than others). It doesn't change anything about the actual eye defects.

      • Spectral shift (Score:2, Informative)

        by Bruce Perens ( 3872 )
        If I understand it correctly, the defective sensor is sensitive at a spectral peak that is different from the value in normal individuals. It is through mutations to this sensor that color vision evolves. Theoretically, some rare women have four operative spectral bands rather than three.
        • Re:Spectral shift (Score:5, Informative)

          by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @11:06PM (#42793123)

          Not theoretical. Empirically observed.

          The mechanism at work is known as "favored X". Essentially, any given cell in a woman's body will favor expression of one or the other of her X chromosomes. This includes retinal tissues. Women who are carriers of red-green colorblindness will have a nearly random distribution of cone cells that favor expression of the defective receptor protein, resulting in tetrachromatic vision. However, since the mutation is recessive, the distribution is usually not that high, meaning being female, and carrying the mutation does not garantee tetracromacy.

          relavent wikipedia page, which has some citations. []

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Calm down dude. These are X-Ray specs, like the ones they sold alongside the sea-monkeys, etc., in old comic books.

      Unless the lenses actually absorb incoming photons at one wavelength, and re-emit them in real-time at a different wavelength, (but with the same phasing and same incident direction with respect to the surface - or somehow magically increase the intensity of the light, without an external input of energy, or absorb some wavelengths and use the energy to boost the energy of the transmitted wave

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Anyway, yes, having red/green perception does enable you to see subtle changes in skin tone, etc" - by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday February 04, @07:44PM (#42792113)

      I have this condition (red/green colorblindness) - So, per my subject-line though - & what I meant about that:

      I've always wondered why I could tell folks were about to get very ill (if not die), because their skintone changes, to me @ least, and RADICALLY, when it happens (also when they're about ready to "kick-the-bucket" too) - I've never been wrong about it either.

      In fact, sadly for me - I saw it right before my grandma passed... It was SO apparent to me with her, & so much so, I couldn't bear

      • by Splab ( 574204 )

        Just looked at those glasses and thought, those would be nice to have playing poker (live) - and reading your post it did made me wonder, how good are you at picking up changes in peoples blood flow?

      • by Thiez ( 1281866 )

        They should employ you at a hospital to sort out the Münchausen people :p

    • No citation? I'm with wierd_w here, I learned the same thing he's learned. If the problem were in the cortex, some of my own observations would be invalid.

      I can pick up something, and it looks black, or blue, or whatever, depending on it's actual color. Carrying that item out into bright sunlight can sometimes reveal that it's some kind of purple. The sunlight doesn't help me to actually say what color it is, only that there is red in it.

      While still in high school, I bought a very shiny black car. My M

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, most forms of color blindness is NOT due to a defect in the eye, but in the visual cortex. I learned about this in graphic design for my color theory class.

      That seems like a very poor use of the word "learned". Most forms of color blindess (ie, the ones that affect >96% of color-blind people) are due to defects in the eye (missing or inactive cones).

      Your teacher was probably extrapolating / misquoting the Taylor study where about 40% of people classified as color-blind by basic Ishihara tests were "upgraded" to "color-weak" due to their ability to distinguish some color in after-images. The remaining 60% were confirmed as color-blind. This was a study with

    • and causing cancer to its employees

      Lets not go overboard here, theres a substantial difference between "excessive radiation exposure" and "caused cancer".

      Maybe hyperbole is your thing (it appears to be), but it really just brings the level of the discussion down about 3 notches.

    • So what it's a defect in the visual cortex, not in the eye. The glasses can process image so that red surfaces have diagonal stripes and green ones are dotted. That's how we use "color" on black and white charts for example.
  • Colorblindness? (Score:5, Informative)

    by supersat ( 639745 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:44PM (#42792117)
    There's an app for that: []
    • Re:Colorblindness? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @09:04PM (#42792267)

      There's an app for that: []

      Mod+1 UP! 'Dankam' has been a godsend for many people with imperfect color vision.

      I knew a guy who tested with a great aptitude for electronics, but near the end of the course realized he couldn't differentiate between the different color coded wires, instead he got work in home improvement field. This app maybe would've allowed him to pursue that electronics career.

    • That is actually really interesting. In addition imagine the potential of having similar software on the google glasses or any other head mounted display giving you visual feedback on objects you may not be able to clearly see in real time.

    • Can these glasses give me tetrachromacy so I can tell what my wife is talking about when I have to discuss what color we paint the living room?
      • by azalin ( 67640 )
        There is another well tested and safe procedure for discussions with the significant other on the subject of colors schemes. It is called the "yes dear" or sometimes the "of course you are right dear" response. It should not be used indiscriminately though, because it can get very dangerous if used as a "does this dress make me look fat" response.
    • The goggles, they do something!

  • by YodasEvilTwin ( 2014446 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:45PM (#42792123) Homepage
    From TFA:

    The eyewear is also potentially useful for police and security officers– imagine if a TSA agent could more easily perceive nervousness

    Yeah, we totally need more low-paid half-trained monkeys jumping on people at the slightest sign of a natural response to said monkeys.

  • I could buy a pair of these to see when I make women blush with attracti--- No, wait... lenses are purple. Abort.
    • Appropriate styling can make purple lenses attractive, assuming a subset of supporting aesthetic features in the subject. Usually requires a dark hair color. Red hair clashes terribly with purple, for instance.

      From your response, I take it that you are one of those people that just plain look bad when wearing purple?

      • Appropriate styling can make purple lenses attractive, assuming a subset of supporting aesthetic features in the subject. Usually requires a dark hair color. Red hair clashes terribly with purple, for instance.

        From your response, I take it that you are one of those people that just plain look bad when wearing purple?

        Heh. Well, most things go well when paired with other things they match with.

        Realistically though, purple glasses are going to be more-or-less unattractive, based solely on the fact that they're outside of the norm.

        • Purple lenses used to be quite common in the early 19th century, due to the primary decolorant used in glasswear being manganese. As a consequence, many styles appeared to use that color to accentuate rather than distract from features of the wearer, and many were quite attractive.

          Not that I am suggesting people wear 19th century styles, just pointing out a possible wealth of subject matter from which to draw inspiration and ideas on how to overcome the issue with purple tinted lenses in security workers, d

        • "Outside of the norm" isn't synonymous with unattractive. In fact, it's been suggested that people with less-conventional features provoke more varied and extreme reactions [], including both repulsion and extreme attraction.
          • "Outside of the norm" isn't synonymous with unattractive. In fact, it's been suggested that people with less-conventional features provoke more varied and extreme reactions [], including both repulsion and extreme attraction.

            Sure, your article proves your point and mine. Since it validates both claims, do you think it is worthwhile for either?

            Realistically, there is a universal set for beautiful faces. Symmetry, 0.7 waist/hip ratio, accented cheekbones, eyes and diminished chin. And since we're discussing beauty, which many people believe to be subjective, you'll find just as many opinion pieces backed up by "science" as you will legitimate studies.

            • Sure, your article proves your point and mine. Since it validates both claims, do you think it is worthwhile for either?

              Then perhaps your earlier point was inartfully put; you said that anyone wearing purple glasses was likely to be "more-or-less unattractive" simply by virtue of being outside of the norm. Putting aside questions of the percentage of people superficial enough to be swayed by something as minor as the color of someone's glasses, the article I linked suggested that people "outside the norm" -- where "norm" here, presumably, means inoffensive, unremarkable, and vaguely attractive features -- aren't "unattracti

  • Not a cure (Score:5, Informative)

    by Avidiax ( 827422 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @08:50PM (#42792159)

    These glasses don't cure colorblindness at all. They allow some colorblind people to pass some color-blindness tests by making them literally blind to certain colors (by filtering them with the lenses). The article mentioned that a person shouldn't drive with one version of these glasses because they'd be unable to see a yellow traffic light.

    These glasses are interesting for other reasons, but they are not a practical cure for color blindness.

    • by fatphil ( 181876 )
      Not a cure, but a work-around. However, definitely not "news for nerds" - as I remember my mum telling me about something like this well over a decade ago.

      Back then, some guy had "invented" putting a pale filter in front of one eye in order to give slightly different images to each eye, such that reds were darker in one than the other, thus permitting anomolous dichromats such as my self to distinguish red from green. "Duh! Like I used to do with Quality Street wrappers 20 years ago?" I replied.
  • I might be knit-picking here, but the OP references that the reason why humans evolved...[was] to detect social cues as though an organism chooses to change or passes on traits for a specific purpose, which isn't actually the theory of evolution, it's Lamarkism []. When you evolve, that just means that other organisms who didn't have the traits that you had died off in larger numbers due to a reduced ability to survive before passing on their genes to the next generation (ie, you are the fittest, so you survi

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Really, ascribing an intent to evolution is just anthropomorphism in speech. The same way we might say that lightning seeks the shortest path to ground as if it has volition. Lamarkism doesn't posit a volitional passing of traits at all. It simply suggests that acquired traits can be passed on.

    • I'm just curious why this guy thinks humans started without color vision. Does he have proof of this change or is he just assuming that it is right purely because he cannot disprove it? Sometimes it is better to just admit we don't know why something is the way it is and do real science to figure it out, rather than spouting off nonsense.
  • And in 20 years, when the patents run out, they might even become affordable.

  • The theory that we evolved colour vision to see our friends blush would imply that our close cousins (apes -- who generally seem to have black faces) do not have colour vision, but they do [].

    • Not just apes, most monkeys too. Especially the big ones and smaller females.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Why would it imply that? Two paths can lead to the same place in evolution. Aside from that the human-ape split was a genetic mess over a large period of time.
    • How about ethnicity in tropical countries and blushing? I come from Europe and don't meet dark colored people very often so I'm not sure if I'm way off. But can you really see a very dark colored person blush? If not and if humans evolved in Africa, blushing may be a really weak cause for retaining something as complex as color vision. And as most of our non-human relatives have color vision the theory has lost all credibility.

    • I don't subscribe to Changizi's theory, but that objection doesn't really work. Apes do not have infinitely dark faces where no changes in colour can be distinguished. It's not necessarily all about the face anyway. I happened to have Changizi's book on the shelf next to me and he does address this... sort of.
  • Having had much difficulty when making new ethernet cables -- to me there is no real difference between the green and brown wires -- I'm definitely interested, but at nearly $300 for a pair, I'm not sure I'm ready to just buy a set to see if it helps.
    • I *never* had problem with cat3. But there are some makers of cat5 that use this annoying kinda shimery colors on their cables that make it damned hard to see brown vs. green in low light conditions (eg, when you're hunched over a wall plate, and you're blocking the ceiling light from shining in).

      I just carried a flashlight. The other solution would be to buy from those who don't use those ugly pastel shades on their cables. (if the saturated stuff still exists; I now work in a place where we're not allo

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      If you can't tell the green and brown wires apart in a cat5 cable, then you are probably fully color blind (-anopia). These glasses only work for partially color blind (-anomaly) eyes. The latter is what I have, in that I can't tell certain shades of brown apart. (I had a "paint pots test" when I was 16 or so, where you have a bunch of black cylinder blocks with a colored circle on top, and arrange them in order of which colors are most similar. With normal color vision you arange them in a circle. I made a
  • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @09:43PM (#42792595)

    Don't most primates have some form of trichromatic colour vision? We're not the only mammals who see three colours.

    • Frm what I remember reading, mamals actually LOST a color receptor early in their evolution, then re-evolved a new one later in the primate family, and in a few others, like elephants.

      Birds actually have much better color fidelity than any mammal, having never lost the ancestral color receptor genes.

      • Mammals lost two colour receptors. We went from four to two.

        Primates got one back around 40 million years ago when we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C. We needed to be able to find more brightly coloured fruit or get scurvy and die.

  • I'd want single-eye correction. The uncorrected eye will see spectra that are filtered by this lens.

    By the way, I've been told by doctors for at least 20 years that a magenta tint sometimes helps. This isn't really new art.

    • by 12WTF$ ( 979066 )

      I have it.
      I am mildly red-green colour blind and twenty years ago had a corneal lens implant after an elastic luggage strap (boing...bang, OUCH!) damaged my lens.
      The clear perspex lens in the one eye and very slightly red (blood) tinged natural lens in the other means that I am now much better at distinguishing colour differences that were once too subtle.

      • Sadly, it would also mean you see a crazy "3d glasses" effect when looking at the sky, and at certain flowers.

        I should ask my mom if she has a similar phenomenon, since she had an artificial lense installed in the early 80s after developing a cataract, itself the result of a former corneal injury by a flying rivet. Never thought to ask.

    • This isn't really new art.

      Sure it is! The patent says so. :(

    • by SLi ( 132609 )

      Funny, I just ordered a few days ago a gel sheet with a known frequency response just to test if I can learn to see more than three primaries if I filter one of my eyes. (I'm not color blind.) Turns out such sheets are manufactured for film shooting purposes, and that they are not expensive - the one I ordered was a sheet of IIRC 21" x 24" and cost $7 + postage.

      Here's a plot of the human cone frequency responses both without the filter (colored dashed lines) and with the filter (colored non-dashed lines, sc

  • by norpy ( 1277318 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @10:25PM (#42792845)

    Interesting that the site doesn't render any content at all without javascript, pretty ironic for an article about disabilities.

    I will give them one thing, their content seems to be accessible to someone with a screen reader.

  • One downside is the Oxy-Iso lenses hinder the perception of yellows and blues at the expense of enhancing reds and greens. This is especially problematic for drivers because the eyewear renders yellow lights nearly invisible.

    Well damn, I can see red and green better now and I don't see either of those color lights lit, what should I do?!

  • Actually I think Dr. Changizi is just not traveling in the right circles. The connection between the audible behavior of natural objects and the construction of words and sounds is very evident in Japanese which is full of a huge number of onomatopoetic words. These words are written in phonetic (hiragana) characters though they usually have a root in a word that is based on a Chinese ideogram. And contemporary Japanese are very involved in devising new words based on a vocabulary of the kind Dr. Changizi s

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:48AM (#42795881) Journal
    Humans are not the only one with trichromatic vision. In fact many of the primates do. So the theory that color vision evolved to tell blood flow and to pick emotional cues has it backwards. They had color vision already, they might have deployed it to detect emotional cues and that might have led to social groups where intent of other members could be predicted. This could have been the difference that led to the branching off of a set of social/gregarious primates (Chimps, Bonobos and Hominids) from the rest of the apes and primates.

    Primates started specializing in a fruitarian diet some 10 or 20 million years ago. They had traded the sense of smell to stereoscopic vision earlier to become arboreal (to live in the tree branches and leap from one branch to another). So they developed the vision abilities further to tell a ripe fruit from raw one and to tell edible fresh shoots from mature leaves, that led to color vision. Another side effect of this shift is the lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C. All mammals could, but among the fruitarian primates, the loss is not debilitating because fruits were rich in vitamin C. Color vision and lack of vitamin C synthesis are the hallmarks of the primate line that became social and gregarious.

    [It goes without saying, they did not do by deliberate thinking and planning.]

  • This seems rather short-sighted. As I understand it, the darker your skin is, the harder it is to see a blush or whatnot. A deaf relative has made it clear that he can't really tell when black people are embarrassed from the blush reaction, and as a naive kid my relative was generally confused and impressed as to how very dark skinned people detected embarrassment from other dark skinned people despite this apparently "missing" piece of information. Obviously there are other signs. Aren't these the signs th

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @12:27PM (#42797667)
    Vegetarians tend to be tri-chromatic; carnovores bi-chromatic or less.

    Some human females are quad-chromatic. They may have two different variants of the blue-yellow gene on their two X-chomosomes. They may see color more vividly than males.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.