Bionic eye? Researchers see progress on contact lenses

University of Washington electrical engineering researchers say they have successfully tested a single-pixel, wirelessly powered display on a contact lens on live rabbits without side effects.

The research, detailed today in a paper in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, is a key milestone in their long-term effort to let humans to see information displayed Terminator-style on the surface of our eyes.

Babak Parviz, a UW electrical engineering professor, is leading the work. Remaining challenges include extending the range of power reception by the lens, and making the system work on lenses that can be worn for extended periods.

The paper gives this glimpse of where the technology is headed.

“In the future, contact lens systems may receive data from external platforms (e.g. mobile phones) and provide real-time notification of important events. As contact lens-based biosensors advance, they may alert the wearer of physiological anomalies, such as irregular glucose or lactate levels. With more colors and increased resolution, contact lenses may display text, be used with gaming devices, or offer cues from navigation systems. Our long-term goal is to create a display that can be comfortably worn in the form of a contact lens, which will include a pixel array, focusing optics, an antenna, and circuitry for power harvesting, radio communication, and pixel control.”

Also from the paper, here’s an explanation of the conceptual rendering above. “(a) A contact lens display comprising a multipixel light emitting diode (LED) chip (1), power-harvesting/control circuitry (2), antenna (3), and interconnects (4). These subsystems are encapsulated in a transparent polymer (5), creating a system to project virtual images (6) perceivable by the eye of the wearer. (b) LED chip with 100 pixels. LED active layers can be grown atop a transparent substrate. Emitted light travels through the substrate and is reimaged using planar Fresnel lenses. (c) Magnified view with one pixel activated, showing Fresnel lenses opposite each LED pixel.”

For more, here’s a UWTV segment from April about the team and the technology.