"We have now merged man and machine. Welcome to the future. "
Ok, well, maybe its not quite turning us into androids, but it is another amazing example of our ability to use technology to solve some of the long standing, and often forgotten problems that many people suffer through daily.
Researchers from Swiss technical university Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have created a prototype for telescopic contact lenses, and have developed the technology to allow them to be controlled by winking. Each contact contains an ultra-thin reflective telescope inside its 1.55-millimetre-thick lens. Tiny mirrors within this bounce light around to create a magnifying effect similar to looking through low-magnification binoculars, offering a 2.8-times zoom increase.
The contacts are comprised of precision-cut plastics combined with aluminium mirrors and polarising thin films, attached with biologically safe glues. But, unlike the soft materials used for regular contact lenses, these are manufactured with a rigid, larger lens called a scleral lens to accommodate the mechanism. This presents a problem for long term use and researchers are exploring ways in which they can make the lenses more breathable. One option included fitting the lenses with 0.1-millimetre-thick air channels to allow oxygen to circulate through the mechanism and reach the cornea.
This device is still in its early stages, and before you start imagining everyone walking around with hawk eye vision, this development is primarily aimed at helping those with age-related macular degernation or A.M.D which is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world and for those over 50. Cathy Yelp, CEO of the Macular Society noted:
“There is virtue in having a zoomable contact lens for those people with macular degeneration who have lost their central vision. We will be interested to see how, in practice, it works for people with AMD."
Other applications for this technology may not be entirely ruled out because the project is funded by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research wing of the American military.
Its a brave new world we live in, and hopefully even those with AMD will eventually be able to see it very clearly...and with zoom.