Telescopic Contact Lens Lets You Zoom In to Improve Vision

By Breanna Draxler | July 3, 2013 3:56 pm

inserting contact lens into eyeWant to zoom in on a view without having to lug around a camera? You may be in luck. Researchers in California and Switzerland have come up with a prototype of a telescopic contact lens that, when paired with special glasses, can let the wearer toggle back and forth between regular and magnified vision.

In tests with a robotic eye, researchers report the lens could actually allow wearers to zoom in on distant objects, magnifying them 2.8 times, much like zooming in with the telescopic lens on a camera.

The technology aims to correct the most common cause of severe vision loss after age 50: age-related macular degeneration. This condition damages a person’s central vision and ability to focus on fine details, and it currently affects almost 2 million people in the U.S., according to the CDC. For those with such vision degeneration, options are limited to getting a thick pair of bifocals or having eye surgery, but this contact lens aims to be more discreet and less invasive.

A Closer Look at the Contact Lens

The contact lens has two modes of vision: normal and telescopic. A user switches between the two modes with the help of a modified pair of 3-D glasses. The glasses are fitted with two different polarizing filters that determine how the light reaches the contact lens.

In normal vision mode, light enters the clear central portion of the lens much like a regular contact, while the glasses essentially block the magnified image from a wearer’s vision.

The switch to telescopic vision relies on the lens’s outer ring. Here, grooves are etched into the otherwise smooth surface of the lens. Some of these surfaces are coated with minuscule mirrors to reflect the light let in by the glasses, while others refract that light. The light let in by the glasses’ telescopic filters bounces back and forth in the lens four times before finally reaching the retina. The result is a magnified version of the wearer’s field of view. The research and pictures below were published in the latest issue of Optics Express.

(Left): Vision of the optomechanical eye alone. (Center): Eye’s vision with contact and “normal” filter. (Right): Lens with “magnified” filter. Image courtesy of Tremblay et al./Optics Express

The lens is made with the rigid plastic of existing hard contact lenses. The researchers added small channels for oxygen to reach the eye, but this version can still only be worn for about 30 minutes, based on their tests with a mechanical model of an eyeball.

The researchers aim to make future iterations of the lens more breathable and flexible so they can be worn comfortably for a day at a time—by a human being. A new and improved version should be ready for clinical trials in November, according to the BBC, and may also be able to toggle before normal and magnified mode with a wink from the wearer…and perhaps a “Go, go gadget contact lens!”

Top image courtesy of Valerie Potapova/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • John McIntire

    Excellent idea! Finally a good use of 3D glasses…Keep in mind there are going to be some serious issues with walking or driving in “zoom” mode because it requires a massive re-calibration between visual inputs and balance, motor coordination, etc. Switching between could be extremely disorienting, too. If you have ever seen the prism glasses or inverting goggles used (often demonstrated in Psych 101 classes), you’ll know exactly what I mean.
    There has been some similar work in military research studying telescopic night vision goggles, telescopic head-mounted displays, etc. that might help shed light on the perceptual and behavioral implications of telescoping ones view of the world. It can cause some wacky problems, but of course might be worth it to help some people’s vision.


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