High-tech contact lenses are straight out of science fiction and can replace smartphones

A conceptual image showing a contact lens with digital and biometric implants. Credit: Shutterstock

Contact lenses are the result of an accidental discovery made during World War II. Ophthalmologist Harold Ridley noticed that despite the shards of acrylic plastic shells embedded in the eyes of fighter pilots, it did not appear to cause any damage. This discovery ultimately led the creation of hard intraocular lenses for the treatment of cataracts.

Over the years, new scientific discoveries have led to softer, more comfortable contact lenses. And now, research combining chemistry, biology and microelectronics has resulted in contact lenses straight out of science fiction.

Ongoing research

Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have developed a contact lens prototype that continuously monitors changes in intraocular pressure, the pressure in the eyeball. The prototype is based on the fact that the shape of the eyeball varies in response to changes in intraocular pressure. When this happens, the contact lens undergoes a proportionate change in shape. A thin capacitor built into the contact lens correlates shape changes with changes in intraocular pressure.

The continuous monitoring provided by the contact lens could be helpful for people with glaucoma. This lens can monitor changes in intraocular pressure throughout the day and can release medications to relieve glaucoma in response. A similar lens, called Sensimed Triggerfish, received regulatory approval in the United States and Japan.

Thanks to the omnipresence of electronic devices, we currently live in a world constantly bathed in electromagnetic radiation. Although a clear consensus is lacking, studies have pointed out that exposure to electromagnetic radiation could possibly induce effects on human tissues. Engineers in South Korea have applied a layer of graphene to contact lenses to help shield the eyes from electromagnetic radiation. The thin layer of graphene also reduces dehydration.


An Atlanta-based optometrist examines Johnson & Johnson’s transition lenses.

Beyond vision

Developments in microelectronics and chemistry have contributed to the development of projects and prototypes involving smart contact lenses. For example, there are already lenses that work like sunglasses in the eyes, darkening and brightening in response to changes in light intensity.

California tech start-up Mojo Vision is working on contact lenses with an integrated LCD screen, which opens up huge possibilities. Similar to a head-up display projected on the windshield of a car, the contact lens can provide a wide range of information, phone notifications, map routes and more.

It is no exaggeration to imagine that we will soon be able to use contact lenses to zoom in on distant objects.

Appliances replaced?

As a doctoral student in chemical engineering, I have been involved in projects focused on the development of very nanoscale polymer films on contact lenses. These films improve comfort and attach tiny sensors to the surface to prevent unwanted substances from sticking.

Challenges remain to increase the mass production of these products and keep the price affordable. Critics also pointed out that it is easier to correct visual impairments thanks to advances in laser technology.

The global contact lens market is expected to grow and we can expect to see a plethora of breakthrough products coming out. And as technology continues to develop contact lenses, smart contact lenses may one day replace smartphones and screens.

Color blind contact lenses

Provided by The Conversation

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Quote: High Tech Contact Lenses Are Straight Out of Science Fiction and Could Replace Smartphones (April 27, 2021) Retrieved May 19, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-high- tech-contact-lenses -straight-science.html

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