Telescopic Contact Lenses Create The Partially-Bionic Eyes Of The Future

By Nick Venable | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

contactWhile we talk a lot about the future of our five senses and the ways in which science is advancing them, we also champion researchers who are working to help out those people whose senses aren’t at full capacity, or are absent altogether. And since I wouldn’t be able to sit here typing these words without having my average sense of sight, I’m particularly interested in this story.

U.S. and Swiss researchers have created a proof-of-concept prototype of a contact lens that will allow wearers to switch between regular vision and one that allows them to see with 2.8x magnification. Their work was published in the journal Optics Express.

Don’t go picturing Terminator-vision or anything. This isn’t a Google Glass-like piece of immersive technology; it is purely for medical purposes, and hopes to aid the vision of those suffering with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness for older folks in the western world. (We’re assuming “ocular seppuku” is one of the leading causes in the eastern world.)

Professor Joseph Ford of the University of California San Diego and co-author Eric Tremblay of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland led the team that created the special contact lens, which uses tight-fitting mirrors for their integrated “telescope” that fits into a lens just over a millimeter thick. The center of the lens provides normal viewing, while the peripheral ring surrounding it serves as the magnifier.

Here’s the drawback: in order for the lens’ telescopic powers to be used, the user must wear a pair of liquid crystal glasses originally created for 3D TV watching, which will block either the non-magnified portion of the lens or the magnified portion, hopefully avoiding the dizzying feeling that sometimes comes with wearing bifocals or trifocals. (Or 3D glasses for that matter.)

The lens were constructed using polymethyl methacrylate, a robust material commonly used in contacts. Tiny grooves were etched into the contacts to correct for colors appearing aberrant due to the lens’ shape. As well, the lens are gas-impermeable, which means they can’t be worn for extended periods of time. In advancing their prototype, the team will look to use a gas-permeable material, as well as finding a way to correct for color problems without having to notch up the lens.

“In the future, it will hopefully be possible to go after the core of the problem with effective treatments or retinal prosthetics,” Tremblay says. “The ideal is really for magnifiers to become unnecessary. Until we get there, however, contact lenses may provide a way to make AMD a little less debilitating.” While it seems like bionic eyes are indeed some kind of future, not everyone is inclined to go that route. And in a few years, they may not have to.

But seriously. 3D TV is failing because people don’t want to wear those glasses. Get rid of them.