Smart contact lenses are shrinking wearable computer visionJanuary 12, 2023
Did you read our blog about artificial vision at the end of last year? This month, we’ve gathered together some interesting developments in the area of smart contact lenses. From correcting vision to detecting disease, and even bringing science fiction-level AI to life, ocular devices are reaching new heights.
Smart contact lens adds to your grocery list – and more!
In 2020, Mojo Vision announced it has been working on a contact lens like no other – an unobtrusive and seamless view on an enhanced world. The Mojo Lens will assist those with low vision with enhanced computer-generated overlays. It’s also got its sights set on industry, as it can be used in a commercial setting to give users access to real-time information via these overlays without the need for a bulky headset or static monitor. It’s Mojo’s first step towards accessible Invisible Computing – the concept of having data readily available exactly when needed without the disturbance of unnecessary information or constantly-visible distractions. In November 2022, the latest development was announced with the testing of the first major third-party consumer application – compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa Shopping List.
The lens includes a minute CMOS image sensor, the smallest and densest display ever made – the Mojo Vision 14K PPI Display – motion sensors to assist with gaze tracking and a customized wireless radio for communication. It’s powered by a battery which is designed to be charged overnight ready for a few hours’ use during the day. The center of the contact lens – the display area – includes a tiny magnification system (femtoprojector) which expands the imagery optically and projects it onto the retina.
The lens faces several hurdles, not least meeting different global regulatory requirements around the safe use of contact lenses within the human eye. But it’s going to be an exciting journey to watch as Mojo attempts to commercialize its tiny computer.
An end in sight for color blindness
In 2020, researchers at Tel Aviv University created contact lenses that can correct deuteranomaly – the specific variety of color blindess where sufferers have reduced ability to differentiate between red and green. More common in men than women, this optical disorder occurs when the photoreceptors responsible for recognizing green light respond to red light instead. The contact lenses have metasurface elements which could be thermally fused into the surface of conventional lenses.
This follows an earlier solution devised by a team at the University of Birmingham in 2018 – contact lenses incorporating a dye to assist in color perception. Researchers used a non-toxic rhodamine derivative dye, chosen due to its ability to absorb certain wavelengths of light in the optical spectrum. Photoreceptors in the human eye usually detect the red and green wavelengths simultaneously. In the experiment, the dye blocked the band of light which lies between red and green, forcing photoreceptors to better differentiate between the two colors.
Contact lenses fight disease
Researchers at Pohang University of Science and Technology have given hope to diabetics through their smart contact lens. Firstly, the lenses are made from biocompatible polymers and can effectively monitor blood sugar or glucose levels in tears. Secondly, and more innovatively, the lenses can deliver life-changing treatment.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition where high blood sugar levels can damage the retina and, in extreme cases, lead to blindness. The Korean research team claim their lens can prevent this damage by emitting far red to near infrared (NIR) light to the retina. Tests on rabbits confirmed that damage was avoided by repeated wearing of smart far red/NIR LED contact lenses for 8 weeks with 120 µW light irradiation for 15 minutes three times a week. It’s believed that this treatment causes ocular blood vessels to dilate and maintain a healthy flow of oxygen to the retina.
A team at the same university are also involved in a fight against glaucoma – a condition in which damage to the optic nerve caused by pressure from excess fluid in the front of the eye can result in blindness. These researchers are developing a contact lens including a gold hollow nanowire in an intraocular pressure system which measures the level of pressure within the eye. In a theranostic approach, the lens is designed to both diagnose and treat this rise in pressure and is devised to trigger the delivery of timolol – the drug used to reduce this pressure.
Innovative developments continue to drive wearable computer vision
With the miniaturization of sensors and processors, tiny wearable computer vision is entering the real world to correct vision and address illness through the use of remarkable ocular technology. The world has come a long way since the launch of Google’s Glass in 2014 and its subsequent failure – where will smart contact lenses take us in the 2020s?
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