Contact Lenses With Embedded Electronics

Scientists at the University of Washington have created contact lenses with embedded electronic circuitry and lights. The lenses have been successfully and safely worn by rabbits and do not obstruct vision. This development brings us a step closer to lenses that could enable us, for example, to zoom in on distant objects or lenses that can superimpose information on the external environment (augmented reality).

The Experiment & Status

Although the prototype does not provide any functionality as of yet, the lenses are proof of concept that such devices can be created. Readers will know that I’m quite in love with head-mounted display systems and augmented reality — now you also know what I want for my birthday in 2027. Although only if they’ve managed to have the rabbits wear it for more than 20 minutes without harm, which is the time limit that has been tested so far.

A close-up of the bionic lens

Diode Grid Self-Assembles, Solar Powered

Looking at the pictures, it appears as if we can count an 8×8 grid — makes me wonder what resolution we will have reached by 2020-2030. As it stands, the circuitry is only a few nanometers thick (about one thousandth the width of a human hair). The construction technique for organizing the diodes is from the beyond:

[They] constructed light-emitting diodes one third of a millimeter across. They then sprinkled the grayish powder of electrical components onto a sheet of flexible plastic. The shape of each tiny component dictates which piece it can attach to, a microfabrication technique known as self-assembly. Capillary forces – the same type of forces that make water move up a plant’s roots, and that cause the edge of a glass of water to curve upward – pull the pieces into position. [press release]

Read: unbelievably hot technology. They state in the press release that lenses with a few pixels could be available “fairly quickly”, the goal being to power them by a combination of radio-frequency power and solar panels placed on the lens outside- and around the iris.

The project was led by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of [Babak Parviz (electrical engineer at Uni. of Washington)] now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., who presented the results this week at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems in Tucson, AZ. [via LiveScience]

Future Potential and Related Tech

We’re using our phones to track our position, view maps and browse the web. Google Earth and similar software is populating our external environment with an artificial layer of (meta)data to increase our productivity and capabilities. Lenses (or glasses) can rid us of the miniature phone screens and project this artificial layer of data directly into our eyes.

The developers themselves mention use cases such as heads-up display for pilots or drivers to show direction and speed. It’s not hard to imagine more advanced versions and methods of control; sensors on your arms that track hand gestures and allow interaction with the objects displayed via the lens, for example.

Bionic lens on a rabbit

As excited as I am, all of this would feel closer to home if we had popular augmented reality glasses that did this — which we don’t. Even the solid HMDs that debuted at CES 2008 are somewhat expensive and low resolution (I haven’t had the chance to try them first hand (hint to manufacturers: send them to me and I’ll review), examples include MyVu and Vuzix). On that note, a message to the Fashion police: Get over yourselves and wear the damn things. The sooner you do that the sooner they’ll get slimmer, hotter and cheaper.

Links & References

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14 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Like a lot of modern tech theres obvious big brother issues with this, but you could say that about almost anything these days. On the whole though I look forward to being able to zoom in on objects, assuming i live long enough to see the tech go mainstream.


  2. It is truly amazing how technology has gone so far. Mankind is truly a genius race!

  3. >>Mitch
    Like a lot of modern tech theres obvious big brother issues with this, but you could say that about almost anything these days.

    Hi Mitch. What relations do you see to Big Brother issues?

  4. Lindsey

    It would be cool if these contact lenses could use florescent solar power to power them… like have mini panels in the tops of the contact container to absorb light energy into the contacts… just a thought, what do you think?

  5. Elijah

    Maybe he’s talking about the size of it and its potential?

  6. Elijah

    Maybe he’s talking about the size of it and its potential? (Forgive me if this spams for it was not my intent and the device I am on is still new to me)

  7. @Lindsey
    Sorry for a (very) late reply. I mention above that their plan is to use a combination of radio-frequency power and solar panels placed on the lens outside- and around the iris! So you’re right on the money :)

    Hey Elijah, welcome to Think Artificial!
    Repeating a comment is quite unnecessary and please don’t do it again. But you’re new here so don’t worry about the above!

    Regarding your statement I’m afraid I don’t follow. Are you referring to Mitch’s comment about Big Brother issues, and what exactly do you mean by size and potential?

  8. So how can I get to be a tester for these contacts? i work in an army Optometry clinic. My DR would be able to send in reports.

  9. italian baby

    instead of using metallic component as the circuitry, do you think that it is possible to use polymeric components instead. would it pose the same disadvantages as the contact lens today? as in, for example, one is not advised to sleep with them in the eyes and one easily loses them when we go swimming.

  10. @Jason – I don’t think you’d want to test them just yet, unless you want to risk losing your sight of course ;)

    @Italian Baby – Unfortunately don’t know enough about the pros and cons of different materials, especially not at that scale. But yes, it would pose the same disadvantages in its current form.

  11. dixie

    i would be willing to test them now or very soon.

  12. Maltheus

    I wonder if these will correct eye vision as well? Like if someone were nearsighted (which I am, and already wear regular contacts), would these electronic contacts correct eye vision as well as provide other electronic functions?

    I so want these! Hurry and bring them on the market!!

  13. Ray

    I currently wear the PROSE devices I am legally blind without them. Is somehow related to this technology?

  14. I’m unaware of any connection here, and this particular technology is in its initial stages of research which makes it more remote from commercialized products.

    But I’m not familiar with PROSE, so it’s best to explore potential connections.

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