My 20/20 colleagues and I often use the term “­optical industry” as a convenient way to refer to the vast array of suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and ­eyecare professionals who make, market, dispense and sell eyewear products and eyecare services. The term is descriptive up to a point, but it’s also vague. (So is the term eyecare professional, but that’s a topic for another column.) Where exactly does the optical industry begin and end?

Since we cover the business of eyewear and not the clinical aspects of eyecare, we limit our ­definition of the optical industry to products and services that ­consumers purchase through an eyecare practice, optical dispensary or optical retail store, i.e., spectacle lenses, sunwear and contact lenses. Those products and services, including eye exams and refractive surgery, account for about $32 ­billion in annual sales, according to the Vision Council.

As large as the optical industry is, it’s important that we widen our scope from time to time. In fact, there are exciting developments happening on the periphery of our industry that we need to be aware of, such as:
  • Electronically equipped contact lenses that can help enhance normal vision with megapixel 3D panoramic images
  • Artificial retinas such as those developed by a company that can help people who are blind or have advanced macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa regain partial sight
  • Eye scanning technology that can detect if a driver gets drowsy
  • Technology that allows eyes-only operation of laptop computers
  • Smart phone hardware and apps that measure nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism
  • Inexpensive eyeglasses with fluid-filled lenses that can be self-adjusted to provide vision correction for people who have limited access to conventional eyewear
Some of these technologies are available now, and others are just over the horizon. Because they can enhance our vision or expand the ­possibilities for vision correction, they will impact our industry sooner or later. Let’s be prepared for their arrival.

—Andrew Karp