Contact Lenses Could Send Texts to Your Eyes

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Belgian technologists just created curved liquid crystal display for contact lenses, a novel step toward having augmented reality literally right before our eyes. They've got an eye on displaying text messages this way.

Unlike previous developments in contact lens displays, University of Ghent researcher Jelle De Smet focused on creating a curved LCD that would be incorporated into a contact lens rather than embedding LED technology into one. This approach means De Smet and his colleagues at the Center of Microsystems Technology have a larger display area, according to the university.

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The group achieved their curved display by using extremely thin conductive polymer films that were integrated into a smooth spherical cell. Resembling an old-school calculator display, their first prototype can show basic patterns like a dollar sign that recalls cartoon characters thinking about money.

While onlookers could potentially see the symbols being displayed in someone else's contacts, the wearer would still have problems viewing them. As University of Washington's Babak Amir Parviz explained to me last year while describing his computerized contact lens development, humans have a mimimum focal distance for even seeing a single pixel.

The Belgian team seems to understand that limitation, indicating in a university press release that the initial applications for their liquid crystal-based contact lens display might be to help control light transmission in people with damaged irises or replace colored contacts, allowing wearers to change the color or pattern on the go. They also imagine these contacts working as adaptable sunglasses.

Here's a video from De Smet that shows the thin, curved display working in the lab:

Since the lenses can project images sent to them wirelessly, the potential is there for these displays to show directions or even texts from a smart phones. "This is not science fiction," De Smet told The Telegraph's Bruno Waterfield recently, adding he expects commercial applications will be available within five years.

Being so myopic myself, I'm cautious about the prospect of extra functionality in my contacts. At least if there's a problem with your phone you can restart it. Removing contacts would get really annoying, especially if you're on the road.

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I admire De Smet's enthusiasm about one day getting text sent straight into our eyes. Whether we'll actually be able to read them remains to be seen.

Photo: A prototype contact lens display shows dollar signs over the eyes, like a cartoon. Credit: University of Ghent.