Google might have got a patent back in 2014, and then Sony in 2016, but scientists at the University of California San Diego have actually created a prototype contact lens that lets you “zoom” when you double-blink. Well, to be more accurate, it only functions when a specially made rig double blinks, but still, it’s a start.
Gizmodo reports that the lens currently needs to be miniaturised before a human would really be able to use it, but it does demonstrate some interesting uses of existing technology that may make them viable for more users.
The lenses are essentially comprised of two parts, as detailed in a recently published paper, A Biomimetic Soft Lens Controlled by Electrooculographic Signal. The first is the lens part itself, which mimics the human eye. Layers of stretchy polymer films take the place of organic tissue, and they change their structure when an electrical current is applied. This electrical current expands or contracts the layers, making the lens thicker or thinner or, essentially, creating a longer or shorter focal length.
The other part of the contact lens is the electronics and control system. There are no buttons or doohickies, you’d simply blink. There’s a tiny but measurable electrical field found in the surrounding tissues of the eye, as well as a potential difference between the front and back of the eye. This difference can be measured as the eye moves and then converted into commands to be sent to the lens.
Although the technology still has a way to go before it becomes usable, the fact that they’ve gotten this far is pretty amazing. And while only a few years ago, this would’ve been well and truly in the realm of science fiction, such lenses may one day become quite commonplace for those with visual impairments.
What will be interesting to see are the other potential practical implementations of this technology.
As for Google… Well, they gave up. No word on what Sony plans to do yet, though. They might end up kicking themselves that they already used the term “Eye AF”.
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