Seeing into the Future

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Around 125 million people wear contact lenses world wide, generally to correct vision. But soon even those of us with 20-20 vision might be wearing them, as scientists have made early successes in incorporating computers into contact lenses.

The Bionic Contact Lens

Yes, the future is officially here. A US team has released the details of their latest development – a contact lens containing an antenna that allows it to wirelessly gain power to light a single LED (in the same way your oyster card uses radio waves to gain energy and register you passing through the barrier). One of the biggest challenges in developing these lenses has been allowing the eye to focus on the image in the lens; normally we cannot focus on objects closer than about 10cm from our eyes. Their trick to deal with this is to place several microlenses on the surface of the contact lens, which have the effect of making the LED appear further away, and thus allowing the eye to focus on it.

All we have so far is a single pixel, which isn’t much, although even something this simple could be of use to the hearing impaired, for example. Second Sight hope to soon incorporate more LEDs into their lens, eventually enough to create words and images in front of your eyes. The majority of the contact lens remains transparent, allowing the user to interact with and navigate the real world whist receiving real-time information through their lens. This kind of technology could be applied to almost everything, from enhancing computer games to providing real time subtitles in any language, to navigational assistance, and, well the mind boggles really!

Although still in the early phases of development and testing, researchers are optimistic about the future of these technologies, and animal tests have shown no adverse reactions to wearing the bionic lenses. Contact lens technologies that can monitor pressure changes and detect early signs of glaucoma are already available on the market, and others which monitor glucose levels in diabetes sufferers have shown promising results in early testing. Researchers at the University of Washington have even been experimenting with incorporating solar power into their contact lens designs, enabling the devices to run without the need for power.

Want to Know More?

  • Lingley et al (2012) A contact lens with integrated micro solar cells.Microsystem Technology 18: 453 – 458
  • Yaoet al (2011) A contact lens with embedded sensor for monitoring tear glucose level.Biosensors and Bioelectronics 26: 3290 – 3296
  • Lingleyet al (2011) A single-pixel wireless contact lens display.Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering 21: 125014
  • Parviz (2009) Augmented reality in a contact lens. IEEE Spectrum

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