‘Terminator-Style’ Contact Lens Closer to Reality

NEW YORK | Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 5:17pm EDT

Imagine catching up with your messages, social networking and perhaps the latest news without having to log on to a computer or even glance at a smartphone. A computerized lens will offer personal streaming and an alternative way to capture information.

Terminator Style Contact Lens True to Life 01

An international team of engineers is working on a new project—a contact lens that could possibly project your email, messages, and different sorts of information straight onto retina. Photo: Institute of Physics

The latest study proved the possibility of the contact lens to control only a single pixel. But the authors are sure: it indicates that lenses with multiple pixels, perhaps hundreds will stream messages.

“Some day maybe we’ll have full-fledged streaming in your contact lenses,” said Babak Amir Parviz, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and the co-author of a paper describing the computerized new contact lens in the latest issue of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

“If we can make very small devices of various sorts, if we have the ability to put them into different materials, what can I do with this contact lens that I stare at every morning?”

Well, now the engineers are a long way from emboding it, but they have recently made an important step and proved a prototype was safe for rabbits.

“We have been able to build the whole system and test it on rabbits, on live eyes, and show that this works and it’s safe,” Parviz said.

It was also revealed that the “Terminator” lenses could overlay information on the real world or could be used as navigation system or gaming. They could be synced with biosensors to display real-time updates of health data like blood-glucose levels.

How does it work? A small custom-designed LED is made with sapphire and embedded it in the center of a contact lens. They also made a circular antenna around the inside lip of the lens.

A miniature integrated circuit connects the antenna and the blue LED. With the use of remote radio frequency transmission, the group could control a single pixel.

So, a human eye still wouldn’t be able to distinguish that pixel due to the minimum focal distance required to see anything clearly. The engineers created a separate, non-computerized contact lens containing an array of special flatter, thinner lenses known as Fresnel lenses, each less than a micron thick. The array successfully focused light from the LED.

The lenses are still prototypes and need some kind of redesigning before being introduced to people.

“The computerized lens is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a hard plastic that doesn’t allow airflow to the eye, limiting usage to only a few minutes,” reports Discovery News.

“Although the device could be powered from about three feet away when outside the eye, that distance narrowed to about an inch when the contact was in an actual eye.”

“While a single pixel lighting up could potentially be useful as a warning, without the focusing micro-lenses, the rabbits only saw a blurry shadow,” Discovery News added.

The authors are hoping to redesign the form of the antenna, incorporate the flat-lens technology into the computerized lens, and make them more comfortable for the wearing, and increase the number of controllable pixels in the lenses.

“If we can make them as comfortable as normal contact lenses, you don’t feel you’re wearing them,” Parviz said. Contacts would allow users to take their displays with them anywhere, hands and headset-free, he added. “In a sense, it’s the ultimate electronic gear that is totally unnoticeable.” [Via Time and Discovery News]

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