"Bionic" Contact Lens May Create Tiny Personal Displays

Joab Jackson
for National Geographic News
January 29, 2008

A new contact lens embedded with electronic circuits could be the seed for "bionic eyes" that can see displays overlaid on a person's field of view, researchers say.

The minute circuitry could aid the vision-impaired or could be used to create tiny but discernible readouts offering data such as driving directions or on-the-go Web surfing.

Researchers at the University of Washington created the flexible, biologically safe lens—the first of its kind—using nano-scale manufacturing techniques.

The results were presented January 17 at a meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in Tucson, Arizona.

"If it works, it would be fabulous," said Blair MacIntyre, who heads the Georgia Institute of Technology's Augmented Environments Lab.

MacIntyre, who was not involved in the new research, works on so-called augmented reality—techniques to overlay visual data using external devices such as headsets.

(Watch a video about research into augmented reality.)

But a contact lens, he said, could eliminate the need for these bulkier viewing techniques.

Self Assembly

Until recently, display circuitry couldn't be made small and light enough to be placed on a contact lens without a noticeable increase in the lens's weight.

"The nice thing about nanotechnology is that we can make all these parts really tiny," said project leader Babak Parviz, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington.

The first challenge was designing the surface of the lens so the electronics didn't block regular vision.

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