VSP Developing Eyeglass Frames With Health-Tracking Features

Some 26 VSP employees are testing the prototype frames with an Android app for now. There's no word yet on when they might be ready for retail sales.

VSP, wearables, health tracking, smartphones, smartwatches

Eyeglass frames that incorporate health-tracking monitors and features are in development at eyewear and vision insurance vendor VSP, which hopes to create another data-collection option for health-conscious customers in the future.

The frames are in the early prototype stages now, but some 26 VSP employees are testing them through daily use, according to a May 18 announcement from company. The early devices, which look like standard eyeglass frames, presently include a magnetometer, an accelerometer and a gyroscope that combine to track a wearer's movements and steps to give statistics about calories burned, distance covered and activity time, Leslie Muller, vice president for design with VSP division Marchon Eyewear, told eWEEK.

VSP's idea began within the company about a year ago as Project Genesis to create eyeglass frames that incorporate health tracking so that users would be able to avoid wearing multiple devices, such as a smartwatch, when they are already wearing glasses, said Muller.

The beta version today does not include heart-rate monitoring, but that is something that will be considered for a future version, along with the collection of other information, such as gait and posture, said Muller, who is also the co-lead of The Shop at VSP Global, which is the company's eyewear research arm. Muller has overseen the development of the project along with her co-lead, Jay Sales.

"The interesting thing about eyewear is that it's been an existing technology for 700 years that has improved our vision and in many cases made us look better," said Muller. "We'll be continuing to add on more value for the wearer."

At the same time, eyewear-mounted health monitoring places the sensors closest to all five human senses and in a position on a wearer's face that is perfectly centered on their body, she said.

VSP showed off the first prototypes of the special frames in March at an annual vision expo.

So far, the frames work with a beta Android app to transit health information to users through a smartphone, but an iOS app is also in the works. The frames used in the prototype eyeglasses are from VSP's Dragon Alliance (pictured) house brand of eyewear.

The early model health-tracking frames look different from any other eyeglass frames only in the inside-left temple area, where it is slightly thicker than a regular frame, according to Muller. "These look like very cool regular eyewear. We wanted it to be designed for lots of different styles and tastes."

Ultimately, the company potentially sees health-tracking eyeglasses helping wearers collect their own data to track their health whenever they are wearing their glasses, said Muller. "The eyewear is just a platform. What Project Genesis is doing is gathering all that data so you can integrate it into your own health records," said Muller. Such records would only be collected if users opt-in and choose to collect the information, she said. Since the project is still in the early stages, many such options could be offered and considered.

The 26 beta testers who have been using the special frames at VSP's Sacramento, Calif., headquarters are participants from the company's employee wellness program and have been providing real-time feedback to Shop engineers and designers so that the company can quickly make fixes and improvements to the prototype's initial hardware and software designs, according to VSP.

The company isn't yet releasing potential launch dates, target dates or pricing information because the project in still in early development. "We're in prototype phases, so we don't want to give any dates out there to over-commit or under-commit," said Muller.

Additional testing and development are continuing, and new versions of the prototype will include more frame designs and additional sensors to provide more meaningful health data, according to VSP. The company is also partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California on research and development for the project to gain more ideas and insights about where the technology can be taken in the future.

Jon Schuller, a VSP spokesman, said Project Genesis began to help the company look toward the future of eyewear. "It is us wanting to disrupt ourselves before the industry disrupts us," he said.