Pretty soon, we’ll all be cyborgs. We’ve already got headsets that enhance your hearing, and even exoskeletons that give you superhuman strength. Now, thanks to the hard work of Swedish optics researcher Eric Tremblay, we’ll soon have contact lenses that give you the ability to zoom in on stuff you’re looking at.
The lenses work by incorporating a very thin reflective telescope inside a 1.55mm thick contact lens. Small mirrors positioned inside of this lens capture light before it enters your eye and bounce it around, expanding the perceived size of objects and magnifying your view up to 2.8 times. It’s sort of like having low-resolution binoculars directly on your eye.
You might actually remember these things from a couple years back. The DARPA-funded project made a splash on the Internet when the first fully-functioning prototypes were revealed back in 2013, but despite being really cool, they weren’t quite ready for real-world use — at least not for regular people.
The first generation of these zoom lenses were designed specifically for people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), so the magnification was always on. The only way to deactivate the eagle vision was to remove the contacts from your eyeballs, which wasn’t exactly ideal. On top of that, the early prototypes were made from a rigid, gas-impermeable polymer, so they didn’t breathe at all and weren’t comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
But now, after two years of careful adjustments, the team has largely resolved these issues. To achieve oxygen permeability, they have incorporated tiny air channels (roughly 0.1mm wide) within the lenses that allow oxygen to reach the surface of the eye. This makes them more comfortable, less fatiguing, and more usable in daily life.
Now here’s the crazy part. The researchers have also developed a set of glasses that allow the user to switch between normal (unmagnified) and telescopic vision whenever they want. This switching functionality essentially makes the lenses viable for non-AMD sufferers, and gives people with normal vision the ability to have magnification “on demand”. Just wink your right eye to activate zoom vision, and wink your left eye to return to normal vision.
No word on when they’ll be available to consumers, but we’ll keep you posted.