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Computerized Contact Lenses

Are "Smart Contacts" in Our Future?


Updated February 28, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Can you imagine a pair of eyeglasses that could project a video image, allowing you to visualize a video display or computer screen while walking around the house? You've probably seen science fiction movies in which data streams across the periphery of an eyeglass wearer’s visual field.

Would you believe that we are starting to see these devices in the real world, most of which are bulky and difficult to wear? However, new contact lens technology may soon allow data to be streamed through a contact lens in order to provide a video display. Can you imagine wearing computerized contact lenses?

Computerized Contacts in the Real World

With computerized contact lenses, your email and text messages could be streamed right out in space, directly in front of your eyes. Such a device could mean a new life for the hearing impaired. Speech could be translated into captions in real time, enhancing lives and improving safety.

Computerized Contacts and Health Care

Researchers have said that this new technology may be able to be connected to previous contact lens biotechnology that relates to a person's health. The combination might allow an individual to collect data about their eyes and body, such as glucose concentration, temperature, blood oxygen levels, and eye pressure. A diabetic might be able to receive instantaneous updates on their glucose levels. A glaucoma patient could be alerted when medications were not controlling their eye pressure sufficiently. Because there are many chemical compounds present in human tears, we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg when it comes to receiving complex bio-feedback information, researchers say.

Computerized Contacts Technology

Researchers at the Institute of Physics at the University of Washington are creating a contact lens that is comfortable to wear and creates a display that does not obstruct the user's vision. Although a full color video display may be far off, researchers think it may be possible. They have developed and tested a contact lens that is capable of transmitting such data. This contact lens display system is composed of only one pixel and can be powered by a remote radio frequency transmitter.

During the study, the researchers constructed a single pixel and implanted it into a contact lens. The contact lens circuitry contains an embedded antenna to power the pixel. An integrated circuit stores the energy and transfers the energy to light a single blue LED chip.

Researchers must address a few problems with the technology, however. First, the images that the pixel creates will need to focus at a very close range so as not to appear out of focus. However, humans cannot focus efficiently at such a close focal length. As a result, researchers will have to somehow add lenses or make the image that the LED creates appear as a virtual image out in space at about a meter away that would be focused clearly and viewed comfortably.

Second, researchers must figure out a way to transmit power to the device from at least 3-4 feet away. A power pack may have to be worn around the waist or on the wrist, or possibly it could come from a smart phone.

Third, the lens will have to be to be more biocompatible. The prototype is made of a hard plastic that is not very oxygen permeable. Lenses worn on human eyes in today’s world are rigid gas permeable or hydrogels. The electronics must be housed in a way that allows sufficient oxygen to travel through the lens.


A R Lingley, M Ali2, Y Liao, R Mirjalili, M Klonner, M Sopanen,S Suihkonen, T Shen, B P Otis, H Lipsanen and B A Parviz. "A single-pixel wireless contact lens display." J. Micromech, Microeng, 2011.

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