Imagine you’re swimming 60 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly, a school of tropical fish flashes by. As you turn to get a better look, will you see a bright multicolored parade of marine life or a dull blue blur?
If you’re wearing a custom-color correcting dive mask from Icare Sports, you’ll see the fish in their full glory. Otherwise, the underwater scene will look much less dynamic, since colors are progressively filtered out the deeper you dive.
Recognizing this problem, Icare Sports, a St. Petersburg, Fla. optical laboratory that specializes in sports eyewear, developed an innovative line of color-correcting prescription diving masks. Established in 1991 as a division of Icare Industries, the lab recently changed its name from SeaVision Labs to underscore that it also makes single-vision and bifocal prescription eyewear for swimming, flying, skiing and other sports. Icare Sport chief Charlie Duffy, a 35-year eyewear industry veteran, spoke with L&T about the lab’s unique business niche and the challenges of producing custom products for demanding, active-lifestyle customers.
How did Icare Sports develop its proprietary color-correction technology?
It evolved from camera technology. Cameras perceive everything the same color. Filters are used to restore normal color when light conditions change.
The human eye perceives color quite differently than a camera, though, and some people see color differently than others. So we wanted to find the best filter for the human eye that could restore normal colors underwater. When you’re underwater, colors get filtered out, even at shallow depths. In salt water, you begin to lose red in 15 to 20 feet; yellow and orange disappear in 20 to 30 feet. When you lose green at 60 feet, everything looks blue or violet, because those wavelengths predominate. We did a lot of testing and finally came up with a Pink Three type of tint. It eliminates the dominant blue wavelength. For fresh water, which is green, we’ve developed a yellow filter called Max Vision.
What are some other applications of this technology?
We’ve created a new product called Chameleon, which is a lens filter that adapts to your dive mask. If you live in one area and vacation in another, you would get a kit with two filters, yellow and magenta. That way, you don’t have to take three prescription masks. We’re going to expand the market with that product.
The lab makes a custom bifocal for divers. What’s unique about it?
We adjust for the difference in the index of refraction between air and water. The index of refraction of water is very low. In order to achieve a +2.50 add power underwater, it’s necessary for us to manufacture a +7.50D add. It’s about a three-to-one ratio. To make the lens, we take a 90mm blank and produce the prescription on the inside with the bifocal molded on the outside. It’s molded in. We offer a single style, a 28mm round seg.
Apart from diving, what other sports products is the lab developing?
The fastest growing end of our business is skiing and swim vision. We make an exact prescription goggle for the swimmer, not a standard diopter or spherical or near Rx, but a lab-induced Rx.
We’re looking into sports where the vision need has not been addressed very well, such as windsurfing, and we’re concentrating on sailing and fishing from a polarized standpoint. We have also have developed a proprietary filtration system for commercial and recreational pilots, called Weatherwatcher. It’s a system that helps pilots define good from not-so-good clouds. It reduces glare without polarization because with polarization the controls of the plane disappear.
How important is being located on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida?
It’s very important. This is a spawning area for new products. We have access to a lot of dive professionals who live in this area, and we run things through them.
There are also a lot of eyecare professionals and optical shops in the area. We love to get outside opinions.