Scientists have created contact lenses that can be adjusted by eye movements, such as blinking twice.
The story sounds directly out of a sci-fi movie, but scientists from the University of California, San Diego, are turning the gadget of our childhood fantasies into reality.
These contact lenses are mainly tiny robotic tools in the form of soft contact lenses and can function the same way we operate a DSLR camera’s lens, but instead of hands, people only need to blink twice.
If you’re unaware, the eye creates a natural electric charge called an electro-oculographic potential.
This natural electric charge, researchers say, are active even when the eye itself is closed or when you’re sleeping. Incredibly, people who are blind can also produce electro-oculographic charges because it’s primarily because of the movements our eyes make.
Lead researcher Shengqiang detailed that, ”even if your eye cannot see anything, many people can still move their eyeball and generate this electro-oculographic signal.”
Recognizing this effect and capitalizing on it, researchers measured the electrical potential of these natural charges, such as when you’re looking up, down, left, right, blink, and double blinking.
After which, researchers created a soft biomimetic lens that responds directly to those electric impulses.
In the paper, titled A Biomimetic Soft Lens Controlled by Electrooculographic Signal: ”The four moving directions of the eyes could control the planar movements of the tunable lens, and double blink of the eyes could trigger the focal length change of the lens.”
The paper describes these focal length changes between ”near vision mode” and ”distance vision mode.” Additionally, within each vision mode, the lens could move following the direction of the eye movement.
Therefore, the lens could literally zoom in and out by merely blinking twice.
In an experiment, researchers demonstrated how the contact lens managed to mimic natural eye movements, such as expanding and contracting when responding to electric signals produced when we, for example, blink.
These contact lenses came in the form of an elastomer in between two electrodes, which activate when you make certain eye movements.
The activated electrodes cause the elastomer to expand, resulting in the zoomed vision effect. Another double blink de-activates the zoom and sets vision back to normal. Synchronization between the eye and contacts occur thanks to the elastomer’s rapid response to the electrical stimuli.
The study claims that the elastomer used—dielectric—were soft enough to be deformed easily, which enabled it to perform changes to the focal length with ease.
Through this deformation, electrode layers on the contact lenses can either expand or contract.
They also said that the focal length can be as large as 32 percent.
In either action, the focal point of the light passing through the artificial lens is altered, which the actual human eye then sees.
The researchers believe this innovation could be used in “visual prostheses, adjustable glasses, and remotely operated robotics in the [future].” If thinking advanced into the technology, scientists hope one day that the system developed in this study could help create a camera that can be controlled using the eyes alone.
However, the technology is still in the very early stages of development. At the moment, it is Stationed on a rig and will have to be dramatically miniaturized in order to be worn on a human eye. There’s also the part where they have to convince that it’s safe to place electrodes on your eyeballs.
Although this kind of innovation is not completely new. The scientists behind the biomimetic contacts cited already-existing human-machine interfaces (HMIs)—which have improved the quality of life for users—as a partial inspiration for robotic lenses.
In a study published in Advanced Functional Materials: ”HMIs have been developed to use electrophysiological signals to control the motion of wheelchairs and diverse functions of exoskeletons. Those HMIs have not only enabled the disabled to restore their mobility and dexterity but also enhanced the capability of healthy people.”
We initially thought that this technology was way out of this time, but scientists believe that they can deliver it in the next few years.