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Editor's Blog

Surfdaddy Orca
November 20, 2009


Electronic Contact Lens

Mathematician and SF writer Vernor Vinge has a thing for contact lenses. Wearing the special contact lenses he describes in his fiction –- coupled with computers in clothing and locational sensors scattered everywhere –- his characters see a constant stream of text and virtual sights overlaying the real world.

Fiction now meets reality with prototype contact lenses developed by Babak Parviz at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Dr. Parviz’s prototype lenses can be used as biosensors to display body chemistry or as a heads up display (HUD). Powered by radio waves and 330 microwatts of power from a loop antenna that picks up power beamed from nearby radio sources, future versions will also be able to harvest power from a cell phone.



In his early 2008 lab tests, rabbits safely wore contact lenses with metal connectors for electronic circuits. The prototype lenses contained an electric circuit as well as red light-emitting diodes for a display. The lenses were tested on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no adverse effects. Here’s a video of Dr. Parviz explaining the design of the lenses:

Fitting a contact lense with circuitry and power is a complex matter. The circuitry has to be transparent so as not to annoy the wearer. Also, techniques had to be developed to deal with the temperatures and chemicals used in large-scale microfabrication so that the polymer material used by the contact lenses is not ruined.

"Conventional contact lenses are polymers formed in specific shapes to correct faulty vision,” says Dr. Parviz. “To turn such a lens into a functional system, we integrate control circuits, communication circuits, and miniature antennas into the lens using custom-built optoelectronic components. Those components will eventually include hundreds of LEDs, which will form images in front of the eye, such as words, charts, and photographs. Much of the hardware is semitransparent so that wearers can navigate their surroundings without crashing into them or becoming disoriented.”

The prototype includes a lense with one LED powered wirelessly with radio frequency (RF). “What we’ve done so far barely hints at what will soon be possible with this technology," continues Parviz.

The power for the lense comes through an antenna that collects incoming RF energy from a separate portable transmitter. Power-conversion circuitry provides DC power to other parts of the system and sends instructions to the display control circuit. The display –- at the center of the lense –- can consist of multiple LEDs that turn on and off. Their transparency is modulated by the control circuit.

Dr. Parviz’s contact lenses offer the possibility of something akin to the augmented reality and graphical display effects used in the movie Iron Man



An energy-storage module such as a large capacitor can be connected to a solar cell to provide a power boost to the lense. A biosensor samples the surface of the wearer’s cornea, performs an analysis, and then provides data to the telecommunication module to transmit to an external computer. Such contact lenses will obviously spend hours touching the human eye. Parviz’s team wants to explore the depth and breadth of information that can be captured by wearing the contacts – for example, diabetics can monitor their blood sugar levels. The lense can sample the information obtained from the eye’s surface and display the results in front of the eye as a HUD.

The first HUDs were used in the military based on static gun sight technology for military fighter aircraft with a ring and dot of light called the "pipper," which projected onto the clear glass in front of the sight. HUDs soon were developed to display computed gunnery solutions -- using aircraft data such as airspeed and angle of attack -- to greatly increase the accuracy pilots could achieve in air-to-air battles.

Today’s fighter and space shuttle pilots are heavily dependent upon HUDs to provide up-to-the-second real time information. Here’s the view of an F16 HUD during a 5-minute flight (the real thing, not simulated, so hang on to your lunch):

Dr. Parviz’s contact lenses offer the possibility of a much more personal HUD, something akin to the augmented reality and graphical display effects used in the movie Iron Man. Here’s a short video (courtesy of Andrew Kramer’s Video Pilot web site) showing a somewhat futuristic vision of the types of graphical information displays that might possible with such contacts lenses:

When you combine Dr. Parviz’s contact lense technology with avatars and virtual worlds, you start to grasp Vernor Vinge’s vision of the near future. With your contact lenses in place, you chat with a distant friend’s quite lifelike image strolling at your side, and adjust the scenery to your mutual taste — adding, say, a raucous nightclub or a serene Zen temple — at the same time that you’re each privately IM’ing your friends and browsing the Internet, much as avatars do today in Second Life.

Given the recent research into the dangers of text messaging while driving, this type of iPhone-on-steroids distraction might seem extreme. Contact lenses as replacements for smart phone displays -- even to monitor blood glucose levels -- might best be done while not operating heavy equipment. "The true promise of this research is not just the actual system we end up making, whether it’s a display, a biosensor, or both,” comments Dr. Parviz. “We already see a future in which the humble contact lens becomes a real platform, like the iPhone is today, with lots of developers contributing their ideas and inventions. As far as we’re concerned, the possibilities extend as far as the eye can see, and beyond.”

24 Comments

    Could this, or a similar device, be used for regulating the light, simulating an iris? I ask this because a friend`s daughter have this problem, and eventually she be blind. If someone knows something about this, please contact me at magsa@uolsinectis.com.ar

    Sounds fantastic! Can't wait to get some myself. Would be so useful for driving, especially in the dark, though I'd imagine it'd take some testing before they were legal for the roads. Just imagine, contact lenses that let you see like the Terminator...

    What would be great is if they could do this to my glasses.

    it's super .whether we can change the data
    stored in the lens according to one's needs by themselves?if it possible means how?

    How many?

    i want to fully know about an contact lens how to use it and how to fix it

    Teenagers will be watching youtube while the teachers thin they are paying attention.

      Already happened...kids in San Francisco California have been known to watch anime videos on YoutUbe (with subtitles) using their cell phones according to my source.

    When can I get one?

    Combine this with nanotube circuits and you have the possibility of adding a ccd on the outside of the lens for vision tracking, making this ideal for AR and enhancement technologies like IR night vision. And once they can make an entire computer using just nanotubes and graphene, we're likely to see this become an entire computer. Add a set of membranes set against the eardrum like in "The Diamond Age" and you have a complete audio/video unit for VR which could be possible by next decade.

    And what's wrong with wearing glasses now?

    I wonder how one would be able to focus on anything so close to your retina. If I hold my hand 1 cm close to my eyes it's just blur.

    It's a technique called focus to infinity. It's used in all HUD systems today. No matter where your focus is, near or far, it stays clear and in focus.

    They could add a "speech to text" program with a language translator. Good for deaf people. Reading the subtitles could be difficult if the person talks too fast or multiple conversations but then you could make it a word crawl like the star wars intro.

    It seems like the contacts would have to be paired with a computer. Contacts get lost and wear out, so they need to be relatively disposable. These things would have to be less than an iphone, more like a peripheral or a headset.

    Also, you'd start to get into some interesting privacy concerns when people are wearing cameras in their eyes. If you don't want any cameras around can you make someone take out their contacts? Do the contacts have to have a little glowing "rec" light when they're recording audio or video?

    I can't wait for the first person to claim they cause cancer!

    The first generations would indeed be little more than a peripheral. Later generations even with full computers could indeed be cheap enough to be "disposable"

    As for privacy concerns, you may as well face the fact that the future will be far more transparent. Get used to the fact that you will be on camera at almost all times. Read the article on sousvelliance in the Articles: VR section. And then imagine how likely you are to be mugged walking through a dark alley when the mugger knows that not only will his face be recorded, so will his voice, and all details of the assault, ensuring that he will be convicted.

    We are becoming a transparent society. Every smartphone contains a camera, every person using one can be recording at any time. As we begin making permanent records of our lives a regular part of our lives via Facebook and other "Lifeblogging" sites, this will only become more pervasive. In the future, expect to live every second of your life "On Camera".

    For a decent overview of Lifeblogging, check out the Metaverse Roadmap here: http://www.metaverseroadmap.org/overview/

    I guess you are saying this is a "learned" technique. It's easy t understand how this works with a heads-up display because you are looking out the windscreen and you naturally focus on infinity but if you have this display resident in a contact lens then what happens when you look down into the cockpit at some instruments which are not at infinity. It would seem that this could be very disorienting.

    It is neat technology.

    Incorrect

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity_focus

    "In optics and photography, infinity focus is the state where a lens or other optical device forms an image of an object an infinite distance away. This corresponds to the point of focus for parallel rays. The image is formed at the focal point of the lens."

    Nah, they'll never be more than a peripheral. They'd have to be inherently small and delicate. That means they will be relatively easy to lose or break. That means data won't be stored on them; they will always be paired with something more robust, which means you might as well not bother putting more processing power than necessary on them.

    I agree that technology will allow us to record things without anyone's knowledge, but I doubt the law will ever allow that. Secrets are too powerful; the collective culture will never give up all rights to privacy, no matter how easily those rights might be violated. We still maintain areas in which we get to set the rules, private areas. If someone comes into my home wearing a camera, and I ask them to take the camera off, they'll take it off or leave my house, for example. The person wearing the camera won't be able to appeal to any precedent to keep recording.

    Although, it would be really interesting if at some point in the future the courts uphold people's right to record. I suppose that might happen. It could be viewed as a person's right to maintain a record of everything that happens to them, for legal purposes if nothing else. That could be allowed while simply controlling what they are allowed to do with the recording. So, their right to record someone else having sex could be protected, but they would still be forbidden from showing anyone else the recording.

    The balance will be interesting.

    One extremely important thing was not mentioned, and It's likely to be the greatest strength of cyber lenses.

    The simple fact that wearing a pair of those, one will look absolutely awesome.

    This will be the beginning of the end for tech.

    sounds interesting; hope they have a long useful life span and can be made as progressive focal length lenses.

    How about the large scale fabrication of these smart contact lenses and other associated issues??? Don't you think we need to develop a parallel technology to manifest this technology, or do you really think we have some pre-existing technology which can manage this effectively??????

    great innovation indeed...........

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