Smart contact lenses for health and head-up displays


Lenses that monitor eye health are on the way, and in-eye 3D image displays are being developed too – welcome to the world of augmented vision

THE next time you gaze deep into someone's eyes, you might be shocked at what you see: tiny circuits ringing their irises, their pupils dancing with pinpricks of light. These smart contact lenses aren't intended to improve vision. Instead, they will monitor blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or look for signs of glaucoma.

The lenses could also map images directly onto the field of view, creating head-up displays for the ultimate augmented reality experience, without wearing glasses or a headset. To produce such lenses, researchers are merging transparent, eye-friendly materials with microelectronicsIn 2008, as a proof of concept, Babak Parviz at the University of Washington in Seattle created a prototype contact lens containing a single red LED. Using the same technology, he has now created a lens capable of monitoring glucose levels in people with diabetes.

It works because glucose levels in tear fluid correspond directly to those found in the blood, making continuous measurement possible without the need for thumb pricks, he says. Parviz's design calls for the contact lens to send this information wirelessly to a portable device worn by diabetics, allowing them to manage their diet and medication more accurately.

Lenses that also contain arrays of tiny LEDs may allow this or other types of digital information to be displayed directly to the wearer through the lens. This kind of augmented reality has already taken off in cellphones, with countless software apps superimposing digital data onto images of our surroundings, effectively blending the physical and online worlds.

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