Bionic contact lenses—which would display navigation data, personal emails, or any other sort of info superimposed on the world before your eyes—have long been mainstays of science fiction. Over the past several years, researchers have been working to make the tech real-world ready, striving to find solutions to the energy, size, safety, and image-quality problems that come up when you’re trying to fit a tiny integrated circuit into something transparent that sits on an eyeball.
Now, University of Washington researchers and their Finnish colleagues have made the first functioning bionic lens: a prototype with a single LED pixel, which could be safely worn by rabbits in the lab. (The image at right shows a rabbit wearing an earlier version of the lens, which contained a circuit but no light-emitting components.) Radio frequency energy emitted from a nearby transmitter and picked up by a circular antenna a fifth of an inch in diameter, printed on the lens, powered the electronics. The transmitter supplied adequate energy from three feet away when the lens was sitting in a dish, but had to be less than an inch away when the lens was placed on a rabbit’s eye, since tissues and fluids in the body interfered with reception. Since light from such a lens would be too close for the human eye to focus, the researchers made a separate contact composed of an array of smaller, flatter lenses, which would sit on top of the bionic contact and focus the light.
What’s the News: DARPA wants to fund research into technologies that could be built into the genome of microorganisms and keep track of any changes made to the organism’s genes, according a call for proposals the agency made earlier this month. In other words, DARPA wants to “turn on Track Changes” in certain viruses and bacteria.
What’s the Context:
How the Heck: No idea. And, judging by its description, DARPA isn’t too sure either. The agency is asking for “multidisciplinary research proposals” and gives a nod to “possibly utilizing a cryptographical or complex mathematical approach.”
Image: Wellcome Images / Peter Artymiuk
There’s nothing like the round number at the start of a new decade to get everyone prognosticating (yes, we know some of you are in the crowd that says the new decade doesn’t begin until 2011; OK, fine). To predict what the scientific scene will be like in 2020, the journal Nature brought in experts from 18 fields. Though the collection doesn’t encapsulate the “world of tomorrow” feel of, say, the old Omni magazine, it’s still packed with sunny (and scary) forecasts. Some show lingering uncertainty, some unbridled optimism, and some give warnings to the world to make a much-needed course correction. Here are five we thought were particularly telling.
1. In 2020, Google defines your reality (even more than it does already).
Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research, tackles the question of where search will be a decade hence. Advanced, he says, but also troublesome: Most searches will be spoken rather than typed, and designers will be experimenting with search systems that read your brain waves. “Users will decide how much of their lives they want to share with search engines, and in what ways”—such is Norvig’s polite description of a world with even less digital privacy than today’s.
What search engines give you back will change, too. Particularly, he says, they will come up with a way to judge relevance and quality that doesn’t rely on popularity: “Thus, a site that claims that the Moon landings were a hoax and seems to have a coherent argument structure will be judged to be lower quality than a legitimate astronomy site, because the premises of the hoax argument are at odds with reality.”