Contact lenses may soon become computer screens

4 Feb 2016

New research looking into polymer capabilities seems to point us in a direction several steps beyond the doomed Google Glass experiment: contact lenses could soon become computer screens.

I don’t have my phone’s notifications turned on. None. I have no audio or vibration. There’s no need. Even some of the most reluctant users might check their phone dozens of times a day.

Why, I wonder, would you need to be alerted towards its function? Well, there’s a chance pretty soon we’ll need neither phone nor notifications. That’s if the University of South Australia is right.

Australian researchers have developed a proof of concept on a polymer thin-film coating, which could act as a miniature circuit on top of your eye.

The lens polymer conducts electricity on the contact lens, meaning our smart devices may no longer be as far away as our pocket.

Okay, to be honest, it’s not quite PS4 or Galaxy Edge on your contact lens that we’re talking here, more a health wearable, monitoring the user at source.

The same team of researchers that worked on “fully plastic car mirrors” a few years back have now partnered with a UK operation that specialises in contact lenses, bringing their ultra-thin polymer projects right to your eyeball.

Associate professor Drew Evans claims he always knew his coating technique “had potential for many applications”, with this nanoscale production that could allow the polymers to grow directly on contact lenses taking his team’s research a huge step further.

“The fluids in the eye provide markers of a person’s health, so our goal now is to build electrical sensors on a contact lens from our polymers to sense in real time a person’s wellbeing,” said Evans.

“The next big leap is to develop complementary technologies to read the information transmitted by the conducting polymers.”

Evans reckons wearable computing is a natural progression from this proof-of-concept project, which is published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

“What is really significant is that the materials we are developing are not only safe but also have the potential for a range of personalised health-monitoring applications that could make life simpler for people struggling with chronic health problems.”

After that? Maybe we can take augmented reality to a whole new level. You never know.

Eye image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic