Monday, November 4, 2013
For years contact lenses have allowed us to throw off the eyeball oppressing dictator known as the spectacle, exposing our beautiful visages to the world in all their natural glory - but what if contact lenses allowed you to do more than simply avoid the embarrassment of running into the arms of a stranger at the station?
Contact lenses that help enhance normal vision are now being designed by scientists using military funding, so you could one day peruse Facebook right before your eyes while boiling an egg in the morning.
The thinking behind this technology relates to the miniaturisation of displays and the fact that there has to be a limit to this process: “One of the limiting factors in further shrinking the size of electronic devices, say a laptop, is the display size,” says Babak Parviz, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and leader of the study, told INO. “Below a certain size, displays are not really usable for the human eye. We wanted to see if we can de-couple the display from the rest of the device, allowing everything to get much smaller.”
A remote radio-frequency transmitter powers the display. Built into the lens are an antenna, a small radio and a light source - in this case, the single pixel. Once higher-resolution displays are developed, the researchers say this technology could be used for web browsing and video games, to provide visual warnings for the hearing impaired, or in various forms of training for military professionals. Indeed, researchers are even looking to develop hi-tech lenses that will feed battle field information directly into the eyes of military soldiers.
This technology could also be used medically. Sensimed, a Swiss medical equipment company, has been using similar technology with its Triggerfish contacts, which have already entered the market. These contact lenses, which also contain microscopic antennae, are designed to track changes in pressure within the eye. This information warns the wearer whether they show signs of possible glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness.
Indeed, the potential uses are countless, and include immersive video, 3D gaming, mobile device interfaces, and augmented reality applications layering computer imagery over what we see in the “real world”.
While some of these applications are clearly very useful, we have to ask ourselves if we really do need real time information feed straight into our eyes. The internet is restructuring people’s brains and shortening our attention spans, so could this be another unwelcome step towards an increasingly technology-stressed human mind?
But let’s stay positive, a brave new world awaits us as human thinking and creativity moves inexorably forward. In a couple of years, you may even be buying visual contact lenses from your contact lens retailer, as quickly as you would buy your daily disposables. With all these distractions, it’s important to remember - as exciting as it may be to watch your favourite show while walking down the street, don’t let it distract you from any open manhole covers!
Imran works in Customer Services for an E-Commerce company, likes composing music, playing computer games and generally finding interesting things to eat.