The opportunity to jab yourself in the eye with a tiny computer display is one step closer, thanks to the ongoing work with opto-electronic contact lenses taking place at the University of Washington in Seattle. The lab there has been showing off the latest prototype, the handiwork of Dr. Babak Parviz: a semi-transparent array – including an LED – embedded into a contact lens that receives 330 microwatts of power wirelessly from a nearby RF transmitter. Parviz has been using the prototypes to display biosensor feedback about the wearer’s vital signs, but they’ll eventually serve as a heads-up display for displaying other data.
The wireless power is picked up by a loop antenna built into the lens, and future iterations of the hardware are expected to integrate the transmitter into a cellphone. There’ll also be far many more LEDs involved, so that the resolution is high enough to be useful.
“Conventional contact lenses are polymers formed in specific shapes to correct faulty vision. To turn such a lens into a functional system, we integrate control circuits, communication circuits, and miniature antennas into the lens using custom-built optoelectronic components. Those components will eventually include hundreds of LEDs, which will form images in front of the eye, such as words, charts, and photographs. Much of the hardware is semitransparent so that wearers can navigate their surroundings without crashing into them or becoming disoriented” Dr Parviz, University of Washington in Seattle
Future plans see the opto-electronic lenses being used for more than just displaying data; they’ll also be able to monitor the eye’s surface chemistry, which would allow wearable computers to keep track on blood sugar levels in diabetics and other information. Parviz’s eventual goal is the contact lens becoming a platform “like the iPhone is today”, with developers creating custom apps. However it seems that’s a reasonably long way off into the distance.