Rachel Metz

A View from Rachel Metz

Google Glass Today, Smart Contact Lenses Tomorrow?

It might take a decade or more, but projects from Imec and others could eventually bring augmented-reality contact lenses to life.

  • July 25, 2013

Though it may be hard to imagine now, we may eventually be able to ditch head-worn devices like Google Glass and simply see images projected floating in front of us using contact lenses.

Researchers at Belgian nonelectronics reseach and development center Imec and Belgium’s Ghent University are in the very early stages of developing such a device, which would bring augmented reality–the insertion of digital imagery such as virtual signs and historical markers with the real world–right to your eyeballs. It’s just one of several such projects (see “Contact Lens Computer: It’s Like Google Glass Without The Glasses”), and while the idea is nowhere near the point where you could ask your eye doctor for a pair, it could become more realistic as the cost and size of electronic components continue to fall and wearable gadgets gain popularity.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Wearable Technologies conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Eric Dy, Imec’s North America business development manager, said researchers are investigating the feasibility of integrating an array of micro lenses with LEDs, using the lenses to help focus light and project it onto the wearer’s retinas.

Not surprisingly, there are a slew of challenges to get past before we’re popping AR-enhanced contact lenses into our eyes. Beyond the obvious one of fitting components such as a display, an antenna for wireless data communications, a chip to process data, and tiny battery onto a tiny, thin, curved surface, there’s the issue of focus: the eye can’t resolve anything as close as a contact lens would be, so it’s not yet–ahem–clear how to display a crisp image on the user’s retina.

Dy doesn’t think it will be possible to fit a camera onto the lens (a necessary part for identifying relevant objects in the real world that can be augmented with digital images). Rather, he expects it to be worn by the user. But Dy says, researchers already believe they can at least project low-resolution images onto the retina, like arrows to help give directions or a blinking light to warn you that your heart rate is too high.

If you like the idea, you may want to pick up Google Glass or another glasses-like device in the meantime. Researchers hope to have a fully-functioning prototype within three years, Dy says, but he believes a set of contact lenses is “probably over 10 years out.”

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.