Imagine having streams of helpful digital information beamed directly to the surface of your contact lenses. That's the dream on which engineers from the University of Washington are working. They've already succeeded in creating a computerized contact lens embedded with a tiny LED that lights up when a wireless signal is sent to it. Here, a brief guide:
How does the prototype work?
This "Terminator-style" accessory is largely made of soft plastic, says Alyssa Danigelis at Discovery. The center of the lens is fitted with a "custom-designed LED" made of sapphire. A circular antenna lines the "inside lip of the lens," which allows researchers to send radio transmissions and control the single-pixel display on the LED, which flashes on and off when it receives a signal.
And the person wearing the contact can see the light?
Not quite. With the plastic lens alone, the LED would be too close to a person's eye to let him see the light. However, researchers fashioned a separate, "non-computerized contact" made out of several ultra-thin lenses, each less than a micron thick, says Danigelis. The idea was that this additional lens could bend light, allowing the contact wearer to see the glow. It appears to work.
Any other problems?
The stack of ultra-thin lenses was tested on rabbits. Because these lenses are made of a hard plastic that "doesn't allow the eye to breathe," they can only be worn "a few minutes at a time," says Chenda Ngak at CBS News. The good news? Rabbits' eyes didn't show any signs of abrasions or thermal burning.
So what good is this innovation?
Once all the kinks are eventually worked out, the hope is that this technology will let people see "all kinds of hands-free information," says the Fiona Macrae at Britain's Daily Mail, including text messages, social network content, and map directions. Researchers hope to have fully functional contact lens displays ready in the next 10 years.