The contact lens of the future may be on the horizon thanks to new research published by scientists from the University of California San Diego. The team has created a zoomable contact lens that follows eye movement and allows users to activate simply by blinking. In a paper published in Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers detail their design and how the technology has the potential to be used in visual prostheses, adjustable glasses, and remotely operated robotics in the future.
So how does it work? The contact lens is mounted to the eye via five electrodes. The placement of the electrodes allows the wearer to zoom in when they double blink quickly. An electrical charge applied to the polymer film layers of the contact cause it to expand and contract, changing its thickness. Thus, when the lens is zoomed in, it becomes more convex.
This is an incredible breakthrough because the team has also designed the contact lens to respond to eye movement. If you look to your right and then blink twice, the lens will zoom properly in that direction. Most soft robots are either pre-programmed or work manually, but the ability to harness natural eye movement is highly innovative and could have big implications.
“Even if your eye cannot see anything, many people can still move their eyeball and generate this electro-oculographic signal,” shares lead researcher Shengqiang Cai. Electro-oculographic signals are generated by the human eye due to an electrical field in the tissue surrounding it. By measuring the difference in the electrical field between the front and back of the eye, movements can be tracked and traced.
While we're still a long way from having robotic contact lenses hit the market, the groundbreaking research will certainly help lead to new innovations in the field.