Researchers Develop Blink-Controlled Robotic Contact Lenses

Anyone who has gone through the process of getting used to putting in, taking out and wearing contact lenses can testify it takes a little getting used to. But replacing glasses with contact lenses, whether for sport or just general everyday or occasional preference, means millions go through the process every day, month and year. Most eyes quickly get used to wearing contact lenses and most psychologies quickly get over any initial squeamishness in putting them in and taking them out.

But there might soon be a greater motivation to getting used to wearing contact lenses than simply the short sighted being able to go spectacles free. Scientists working at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a new breed of robotic contact lenses that sound like the belong firmly in the realm of science fiction. The lenses zoom in and out at the blink, or movement, of the wearer’s eye. They automatically focus on either on either objects in close proximity or in the distance by interpreting the natural eye movements someone would subconsciously make to do that within the confines of their biological limitations.

The researchers were able to achieve this by measuring the ‘electro-oculographic signal’. The tissues that surrounds the human eye contain an electric field. And the electro-oculographic signal is the measurable difference in the voltage between the front and back of the eye. The lenses are made from elastic polymer films encasing salt water. When someone moves their eyes to focus on something or blinks, that sends an electrical signal the lenses can measure and they then change their structure accordingly.

If a wearer blinks twice the polymer film of the contact lens stretches like a muscle and expands, activated by the electrodes produced by the movement. As a result, the focal point of the light passing through the lens is altered, allowing for ‘zoomed-in’ vision of up to 32 percent. Another double blink reverses the change, reshaping the lens and returning the wearer’s sight to normal.

The technology is designed to help wearers who are long and short sighted but in future could theoretically be adapted to simply artificially enhance the vision of any wearer.

At their current stage of development, the robotic lenses only work if electrodes are placed around the wearer’s eyes and hooked up to an external ‘rig’ that contains supporting tech. It will likely take another several years but the research team believe that eventually it will be possible to integrate this extra tech into the lenses themselves for a commercial product.

‘Smart’ lenses are currently the subject of plenty of research and development. Alphabet were working on a project for lenses that were able to offer blood glucose readings of diabetics but halted work as readings proved unreliable. Samsung has recently been granted a U.S. patent for ‘augmented reality’ lenses that include a tiny camera that can project images directly on to the wearer’s eye.

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