Researchers working out of the University of Washington and Aalto University in Finland have developed a proof of concept contact lens that displays computerized data for the wearer, much like the cyborg in the Terminator movies. In the initial study, a single pixel was displayed and then seen by a volunteer wearing the lens. The team describes their results in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
The idea is that information such as text or graphics can be displayed on a contact lens instead of a computer screen, freeing the user from having to look at a separate device. Such a lens would also allow interactions to between the real world and the images on the lens, such as an arrow leading the way towards a destination, or pertinent facts about the immediate environment, such as the names of the stores in a mall. All of this could come about as the lens is connected to a device and then to the Internet, allowing it to become just another display device connected to electronic gadget such as a Smartphone. In such a scenario, apps developers could write apps just for the lens, and the user could choose among them for the best fit.
The lens works by means of a small antennae attached to the person’s body to harvest power from another source. It’s connected to a device with an integrated circuit that creates the data to display on the lens. The chip then transfers the information across the surface of the lens to a very tiny sapphire transparent chip containing an LED. When the LED is activated, the user can see it. To get around the problem of having to focus on the LED on the lens, the team directed the focus of the LED directly to the cornea, thus there are no problems with blurring. Such a system can be easily expanded to include several hundred, or even thousands of LEDs to allow for a rich diversity of imagery, bounded only by the imagination.
With a finished product, the antennae would become moot as the power source would lie within an electronic device such as a Smartphone, which would mean the lens would work with nothing but the lens and the phone.
The lens was first tested with rabbits before human volunteers tried them on. All reports thus far indicate that no side effects from the lens have occurred, meaning that the team can set to work on a lens that displays both images and graphics. If all goes well, we might expect to see a product on the market with a year or so.