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What Are Bionic Contact Lenses?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
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  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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Bionic contact lenses are a future technology concept being developed by scientists and engineers. In theory, these devices would have tiny screen displays implanted within the material of the lens that could be used in a variety of ways, including everything from displaying text that describes objects in the user’s surroundings to enhancing vision. Advances in the miniaturization of electronics components have made this technology more possible than it was in the past, but experts suggest that there are still a few obstacles that must be overcome before it is possible to create practical bionic contact lenses for consumers.

Scientists have many different ideas about ways to use bionic contact lenses that could potentially benefit people in everyday life. For example, the lenses could offer tips and information about the things an individual is looking at, provide a compass or map overlay to help people navigate, magnify objects within the person’s vision, or provide an infrared mode, allowing people to see the world in a brand new way. Other ideas include practical things such as monitoring heart-rate and body temperature for exercisers, or flashing warnings about upcoming traffic problems. Some of these ideas may be beyond the limitations of currently proposed designs, but as the technology matures, scientists feel they may be possible.

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There are a few particular technological advances that have made bionic contact lenses more practical than they once were. According to experts, some of the main areas of advancement have been the improvements in light-emitting diode (LED) technology. Modern LEDs can be very small and take very little power to operate, making it potentially possible to create a tiny LED screen on a contact lens that uses very little power. Additionally, improvements in wireless technology make it potentially possible to have the computer that sends the images to the lenses in a separate device, perhaps a small machine worn on the person’s belt or even as part of the individual’s cell phone.

Scientists are working to overcome a few roadblocks in order to make the technology usable and practical to actually build. According to experts, further miniaturization is still needed along with some additional advances in power efficiency, but the basic components are already available and they just need a little more refinement. Some scientists believe that the first working devices will probably have fairly modest capabilities and it may take a significant amount of time before some of the more advanced possibilities become available for real use.

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anon268260
Post 13

Maybe they can be used in conjunction with recognition software making it easier for law enforcement to identify criminals.

As for putting metal in your eye you do realize that the metal will be inside the lenses itself right. Basically they put the electronics between two thin pieces of plastic or glass, depending on the material the find more useful.

I also like the sound of using holographic technology with the bionic eye for video games. It seems it’s getting closer and closer until we will be able to feel like we are in the game itself.

LisaLou
Post 12

For some reason, the possibilities of what bionic contact lenses could do raises more red flags than anything. Maybe I am just paranoid, but I can see all kinds of problems with something like this.

I have worn contact lenses for a long time but don't know how comfortable I would be to try these. It may be because of the experience I had with laser eye treatment.

Since I had that done, my eyes have become extremely dry, and I am back to needing corrected vision again. This has made me realize how precious my eyesight is, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that.

I could see these possibly being used in special situations, but have a hard time understanding how this would be beneficial or available for the average contact lens wearer.

sunshined
Post 11

I have worn contacts since I was 16 years old and this sounds absolutely awesome! What sounds most appealing about this to me is no more reading glasses.

If these bionic contact lenses could magnify the words I needed to read, I wouldn't have to worry about the need for reading glasses.

I was also quite fascinated about the idea of these contacts monitoring your heart rate. If they could monitor something like that, could they also tell you what your blood pressure is?

There seem to be endless possibilities to the potential of something like this. I hope I am around long enough to get to try something like this out.

sunnySkys
Post 10

@strawCake - I think bionic contact lenses could probably replace books and cameras as well. It sounds like you could project pretty much anything in front of your eyes with these things.

I think they'll also have applications for video games or virtual reality. Imagine if you could play a video game and you bionic contact lenses could project the game right in front of you so it took up your whole field of vision. You would feel like you were actually in the game.

And of course you could probably use these things for education too, but I think using them to play a video game sounds more fun!

strawCake
Post 9

@starrynight - That's an interesting question. Or would people be too freaked out about the idea of a tiny machine on their eye that even normal contact lens wearers wouldn't want to use bionic contact lenses? I guess we won't know until this technology is actually developed for consumer use.

I personally think that bionic contact lenses have the potential to completely replace televisions and movie theaters. If you wanted to watch television with someone, I'm sure they will come up with a way to synchronize your lenses so you can both watch at the same time. I'm sure this technology has other practical, non-entertainment, applications as well.

starrynight
Post 8

Since I already wear regular contact lenses, I would jump at the chance to wear bionic contact lenses! It would be a huge improvement on something I use every day.

However, I know a ton of people that say the idea of wearing contact lenses "freaks them out" and they "don't want to touch their eye." I wonder if squeamishness about contact lenses would be a hurdle for this new technology? Or would it be so awesome people would get over their fear of contact lenses and give it a try anyway?

Mammmood
Post 7

@hamje32 - Law enforcement people use infrared technology a lot. They call it night vision goggles which let them do searches in the dark.

From what I’ve seen these goggles are rather bulky units. This is where I see a bionic lens with infrared capability as being a big boon to law enforcement. They can see in the dark, hands free, so that they can be flexible and nimble at all times.

My guess is that law enforcement and military applications will be first in line to use the new technology, and then only after awhile will it filter down into the business or civilian sector. That’s typically what happens with cutting edge technologies from what I’ve seen. The government gets first dibs.

hamje32
Post 6

@allenJo - Such establishments would probably have ways of detecting bionic contact lenses. They do use transmission signals after all. If they found out you were wearing them they would politely ask you to remove your eyes, so to speak.

I don’t think we’re heading down the Orwellian path where Big Brother is going to try to control you. Instead, I think these technologies will be sooner exploited by big business instead.

I visualize marketers using these devices to transmit information about products you’re looking at. They can even zap multimedia presentations to you as you look at an item. They already do this with RFID tags so I think they could easily adapt the technology for use with bionic contact lenses.

Hopefully you would have some way of turning the experience off; otherwise shopping would give you a headache.

allenJo
Post 5

@miriam98 - Like all technological improvements, it raises privacy concerns however. Take the issue of wireless image transfer. What if you really could just “look” at something and then transmit the picture to your cell phone or post it online?

You could get away with anything and no one would be the wiser. You might be able to go into some establishments that don’t allow cameras to take pictures without their realizing it too. I love technology just as much as anyone else but I think we need to be careful. There is always a way to take a good technology and use it in a bad way.

miriam98
Post 4

I grew up watching the Six Million Dollar man and his bionic vision was of course a staple of his technological superpowers. I never thought I’d see something comparable to this in real life, years later.

Personally I think there will be no end to what you can do with these kinds of lenses, beyond simply magnifying your surroundings or superimposing text on your lens. I’ve even heard that some companies are looking into making little TV screens out of these lenses.

It might become possible someday to watch your favorite movie right in your own eyes so to speak, perhaps with a bit of holographic projection thrown in to boot. I think the sky is the limit. The only thing I would worry about is that I think that these technologies would become addictive in their own way.

turquoise
Post 3

@burcidi-- I would say that you're right and I understand your concerns but I read an article just recently that scientists have tried bionic contact lenses on rabbits and it appears to be completely safe so far.

Plus, the metals in the contact lenses are in nanometers, which means that it's way tinier than the thickness of a single strand of hair! I highly doubt that this is going to cause any discomfort.

Of course the technology is not perfect yet. They still have to figure out how to make it work while it's away from the battery and that's why they're still working on it. But I have full faith that this is going to succeed and will be out on the market sooner than we realize.

And don't think that this is only going to help with vision or recreational uses. They say that even diabetes patients will able to check their blood sugar through it!

burcidi
Post 2

Bionic contact lenses sound good to the ears, but I don't really think that it's feasible or safe. The kind of materials that would need to be inside the contact lens is just too dangerous for the eye. How many of us would actually be willing to put China made metals and chemicals in our eyes?

They can't even make a contact lens that breathes completely and protects our eyes from drying out. I've been using the so-called "breathing" contact lenses for years and now I'm under treatment for having dry eyes. And I bet that little device in the contact lens is going to get super hot as it's being used.

I love technology and no one would want to read emails through their contacts more than me, but I don't think I want to become blind just yet.

bear78
Post 1

Wow, a map in my contact lenses to help me navigate?! That would be amazing!

I have the worst sense of navigation and can manage to get lost even in buildings. It would be amazing to have this kind of a tool available, that too, through my eyes!

I wonder how long it will take until this is finally developed and manufactured for consumers? I hope it happens fast! In my class recently, we were discussing how the military uses technologies that consumers will only have access to after several decades. I wonder if the military is already using bionic contact lenses?

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