10 Bizarre, Vision-Enhancing Technologies From the Last 1,000 Years

Before Oculus Rift, there were lorgnettes, TV glasses and eyborgs


The current boom in wearable and immersive technology will forever alter how we see and interact with the world. From Oculus headsets that jettison us through time and space, and FOVE eye-tracking technology that uses subtle movements to control virtual reality environments, to conceptual designs for contact lenses with cameras that trigger when a wearer blinks, our augmented vision is stretching our conception of reality. Yet the desire to manipulate, correct or extend what we see is not an exclusively 21st century urge—it has fueled ingenious, and at times wildly eccentric, innovations for centuries.

Magnifying and Correcting

In the 11th century, Ibn al-Haytham, an Arab scholar studying shadows, eclipses and rainbows, observed that a convex lens could make a magnified image. In his Book of Optics (1021), he notes that light enters and is processed in the eye, countering the Greek notion that light emanated from the eye itself. Al-Haytham made his own magnifying lens and used it to read scientific treatise when his eyesight started to fail in old age. In 1266, an English monk based in Paris, Roger Bacon, published Opus Majus. The manuscript outlines technical drawings and scientific theories for corrective lenses, although it appears that they were never made.


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