Contact lenses of 1.55 millimeter-thickness that contain an extremely thin reflective telescope to boost vision, which zooms in and out with the wink of an eye are being developed by a research team from the University of California, San Diego and experts at Paragon Vision Sciences, Innovega, Pacific Sciences and Engineering, and Rockwell Collins. First released in 2013 and fine-tuned since then, the prototype was unveiled on Friday, by Eric Tremblay from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in California.
The contacts are made using large, rigid scleral lenses, unlike the soft contacts most people wear, but are nonetheless safe and comfortable to wear. Several precision-cut plastic pieces, aluminum mirrors and polarizing thin films form the lens, along with biologically safe glues. Since the eye needs a steady supply of oxygen, the scientists have worked on making the device more breathable, using tiny air channels that are approximately 0.1 millimeter wide within the lens. The contact lenses come with smart glasses that respond to the wearer's winks, but not blinks, so that the user can switch almost effortlessly from normal to magnified vision and back. The wearer has to wink with the right eye to activate the telescope, and then with the left eye to deactivate it.
Tremblay said, "We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a vision disorder that affects older people. At this point this is still research, but we are hopeful it will eventually become a real option for people with AMD. The device magnifies objects 2.8 times, meaning AMD patients can read more easily and better recognize faces and objects with its help."
The researchers said, "Small mirrors within bounce light around, expanding the perceived size of objects and magnifying the view, so it's like looking through low magnification binoculars." Tremblay stressed that the device was still at the research stage, though it could eventually become a real option for people with AMD. He said, "It's very important and hard to strike a balance between function and the social costs of wearing any kind of bulky visual device. There is a strong need for something more integrated, and a contact lens is an attractive direction."
Researchers described their product as 'a huge leap' forward, compared to glasses already on the market for people with AMD that have mounted telescopes but tend to be bulky and awkward to use.