Contact lenses have come a long way since they were first conceived of in the late 19th century; but they’re about to go a whole lot further with emerging ‘smart contact lens’ technology being in its infancy, surely poised to take off in the not too distant future.
No, not the incredibly successful communications technology company which has in some ways symbolised the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re talking about optical technology companies in 2020 who are pouring millions of pounds into ‘smart contact lens’, including varifocal contact lenses technology, so-called. There is a precedent; you may remember Google’s first foray into what it termed ‘Google Contact Lens’ back in 2014. The original intention was to assist diabetics to be able to monitor the amount of glucose in their tear drops. Actually, a company called ‘Verily’ was responsible for pioneering this innovation but unfortunately their prototype didn’t make it all the way to production.
In 2020, though, scientists and researchers from the University of California San Diego are pioneering a contact lens which will harness the ‘electrooculographic signal’ which naturally occurs in the eyeball. It will, they hope, enable the wearer to be able to literally zoom in and zoom out, just like superman! These smart contacts are also called ‘biomimetic contacts’ and are composed of electoractive polymers that in effect function as flexible and responsive miniature robots. The polymers will expand when an electrical signal from the eye initiates it.
HMIs, or rather ‘human-machine interfaces’, have already been engineered to employ electrophysiological signals to enable users to control wheelchair usage. The future user will be able to exert control in a way currently unthinkable and then, with a double blink, can deactivate the optical motion sensor and operate as normal. It is at the experimental stage currently but remember, the ever present I-phone of 2020 isn’t even 15 years old.
- Augmented Reality
An optical technology which currently exists predominantly in computer games, but is likely to develop exponentially, is the recreational, vision-centric technology lens of augmented reality, ie. which will create a so-called ‘mixed reality’ experience in which you can play video games such as Minecraft whilst sitting at a coffee table or in a waiting-room. It would work at the blink of an eye. Microsoft’s HoloLens is well on its way to providing this kind of experience already in 2020. A small startup called Mojo Vision is also seeing how far such smart lens technology can be applied. Military experts are also keen to see how this could work in the ‘theatre’ of military operations. In the wrong hands it could be terrifying!