A team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have invented a pair of glasses that can enhance one’s color vision, which in turn would allow them to see metamers, colors that look the same to the human eye but in reality give off different light wavelengths, as two entirely different hues.
Humans detect color is through their three types of cones in their eyes- one for short/blue wavelengths, one for medium/green wavelengths, and one for long/red wavelengths. Mikhail Hats, a physicist and researcher from UW – Madison, was reviewing his knowledge of the human eye when he suddenly got an idea: What if we could trick the eye into having another type of cone cell?
In theory, this could make us humans go from trichromatic (having 3 color channels) to tetrachromatic (having 4 color channels). Some animals, like birds and goldfish, have 4 or more color channels, usually red, green, blue, and ultraviolet. Research has also proven that some very small number of female humans are tetrachromats as well. So if they can do it, maybe we could fake our way into make us everyday people do it too?
To create these glasses, Kats and his team designed the glasses to have 2 color filters, one for each eye which strips out two different and specific parts of the blue light spectrum. When each eye sees something slightly different light information from the other, they hypothesized that a very subtle difference in color would become more obvious, and they were right.
Source: Daily Mail UK
They tested out the glasses by displaying two blocks of color, which the normal human eye would perceive as the same hue, on a smartphone screen. Once the volunteers had the glasses on, however, it was very easy to tell them apart. “They look exactly the same and you look through the spectacles and, holy crap, they’re two different things,” says Kats.
The fact that they used two filters was very important, because while one filter would be sufficient enough to see certain metamers, it might also make two hues that look different appear the same, so two was the way to go.
Jay Neitz, a colour vision researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle says that “It’s a really fun idea. There’s no doubt when you do this glasses thing, you would be able to discriminate metamers.”
Source: Daily Mail UK
Neitz has experimented with color filters before, but found that sending different information to each eye could be really uncomfortable. Kat’s team however had made their filters only very slightly different, enhancing their metamer distinguishing abilities as well as being no more uncomfortable than sunglasses.
While the filters can only distinguish metamers at the blue end of the spectrum, Kats hopes to create one for green and red wavelengths next. Once the glasses can differentiate several hundred more hues, Kats says it could be applied to more practical tasks such as detecting counterfeits, seeing color changes in food that’s about to spoil, and picking out camouflaged objects.