Turning Contact Lenses into Screens

Margherita Olivo
February 14th 2016

The way we interact with technology is hanginhanging very quickly and is becoming every day more personal and intimate. Scientists from the University of South Australia's Future Industries Institute transformed contact lenses into computer screens. They came up with a polymer film coating able to conduct electricity on a contact lens, with the potential to build miniature electrical circuits that are safe to be worn.

As UniSA researcher from the FII Drew Evans said, this could really be a game changer that could bring people and smart devices even closer. "We're talking about anything from a simple sensor that can measure the amount of glucose in your blood through to actually creating electronic displays so rather than having something like a pair of glasses that's acting like a computer, you can actually generate images directly on your contact lens" Professor Evans expalined. "We have always known that our film coating technologies had potential for many applications and now we have taken that a step further by proving that we can make biocompatible, conducting polymers at the nanoscale and grow them directly on a contact lens".

Big contact lens companies are fighting to win this revolutionary product. But the FII already partnered up with a British company to develop the electronic lens. "The sky's the limit and the work we're doing with our industry partner aims to give them a game changing technology" continued Professor Evans. "Obviously the timeframe to go from where we are now to each of these different applications is unknown but it's the first step towards being able to do a lot of that. We've proven that these materials go together and the next phase of the project is to make them stick and make them robust. Once we achieve that step the next step would be to scale up the manufacturing process and work with the team in the UK to develop a commercial product. If we can demonstrate that we can get it to stick then that is the game changer and the world is our oyster".

Looks like this wearable contact-lens display could do all the things the Google Glass can do. Eventually the lenses could also be used to correct a user's vision, and perhaps to offer "zoom" and other capabilities by electronic activation of micro-lens functions. Researches in this field are not new: we've seen the augmented contact lenses and the smart contact lens developed by Google, able to measure blood glucose levels in tears. Back in 2009 other researchers made some exciting advances in the area, with lenses that change color in response to glucose levels and Microsoft also getting in on the action. But taking these smart lenses out of the lab and onto people's eyeballs is of course another matter.

"What is really significant is that the materials we are developing are not only safe but also have the potential for a range of customized health monitoring applications that could make life simpler for people struggling with chronic health problems" added Prof. Evans. A product with a similar purpose, the iDio, was already developed as a speculation in our Nano Supermarket.

Source: PHYS. Image: Shutterstock

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