As wearable vision correction goes, it doesn’t get more low-key than contact lenses. The thin lenses often appear invisible to all but the most eagle-eyed observer.
The attraction of this discreet design has led to many high tech inventions, with a variety of purposes and audiences. Here are five such contact lenses that have the potential to change the world.
5. Dissolving ‘nanowafer’ contact lenses
Delivering medicine to the eye can be problematic when it’s required on a regular basis. The eye’s reflexes have a tendency to wipe or wash away most medicines, reducing their effectiveness. Using eye drops can be an imprecise, messy method, and attempting to give eye drops to children is something no parent deserves to endure.
Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Dallas think they’ve found a better way. They’ve developed an ultra-thin contact lens, called a ‘Nanowafer,’ that can deliver drugs to the eye over a long period of time.
The Nanowafers slowly dissolve, releasing minute reservoirs of drugs into the eye. The dissolve duration can be set between a few hours to several days. This helps to offer a far more reliable, steady dose than regular eye drops.
Clinical trials of the Nanowafer lenses hope to begin next year. Thanks to the elegant, highly practical design, it’s easy to see how the concept could have a huge impact on eye-administered medicine.
4. Telescopic contact lenses
The team has created a prototype lens that enables its wearer to make objects appear 2.8 times larger than reality. To enable this ‘superpower,’ the wearer just needs to wink with one eye, causing their vision to ‘zoom’ in.
The lenses contain tiny aluminium mirrors, which causes the light to bounce in a specific way. A polarising filter directs light towards or away from the mirrors, depending on which eye the wearer winks with.
The lenses expect to help those with macular degeneration, and could offer a discrete method of magnification for the military. Either way, we can’t wait until the day superpowers are available for everyone.
3. 3D-printed contact lenses
When it comes to creating something that’s worn on your eye, precision and care is paramount. Contact lenses use exact specifications, consisting of delicate materials. They’re certainly not something that you could make in your own home – not yet, at least.
3D printers have already started to have an impact on how we view the manufacturing process. Small-scale printers are currently available commercially. On an industrial scale, 3D printers are able to print almost anything, from custom machine parts to entire houses.
Contact lenses are another story though, and tech companies struggle to create a printer that can create something safe to place on a human eye. Dutch company LUXeXcel are looking to change this, creating a process that can print objects in a transparent material, with a surface smooth enough to befit a lens.
The process is still a long way off from printing modern contact lenses. The technology is workable though, and 3D-printing could prove invaluable in quickly creating niche prescription or custom contact lenses.
2. Augmented reality contact lens
Augmented reality is the ultimate demonstration of how technology can alter our perception of the world. The most famous current example of augmented reality is Google Glass, which mounts a small heads-up display in the wearer’s vision.
Tech company Innovega are looking to take the idea of augmented reality one step further, with their iOptik system. The device takes the form of a contact lens, which can produce a display anywhere in the eye’s vision.
There are many possibilities for the iOptik. Innovega suggests that the device will be able to display anything your smartphone can, such as social media pages, satellite navigation, and video chat. This is particularly useful for tasks that require both hands. Cyclists can get directions through winding streets while keeping both eyes on the road, while surgeons can check vital readings without looking away from the patient.
Innovega are still searching for a distribution partner, and the iOptik is not expected to be ready for consumers for several years. If the ambitious company manages to pull off the technology, then it’s easy to imagine such a product having a huge influence on how we live our lives.
1. Glucose monitoring contact lens
Diabetes affects over 3 million people in the UK. The condition causes blood sugar levels to become too high, and requires constant monitoring.
For people living with Diabetes, checking blood sugar levels is a disruptive, inconvenient process. The most common method draws blood many times every day.
Google hope to improve the lives of Diabetes sufferers, by introducing a device that can track glucose levels without drawing blood. A small chip and glucose sensor, embedded within two layers, form a contact lens worn in the eye. Tiny LEDs display when blood sugar levels become too high or low.
The device has a long way to go before it’s ready for clinical trials, but it has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for Diabetes sufferers. If any company can pull off such an ambitious feat, it’s Google.