Stretchy nano-devices pave the way for smart contact lenses

19 Feb 2016

Australian researchers have developed a new stretchy nano-device that can “manipulate light”, paving the way for smart contact lenses.

Soon your contact lenses might be able to filter our certain elements of light, protecting your eyes from harmful radiation without altering your vision.

Soon after, perhaps, they will be able to transmit data through light, providing you with a computer screen over your eye.

Tiny crystals

That’s according to researchers at the University of Adelaide and RMIT University, whose discovery involves tiny artificial crystals called “dielectric resonators”, which are implanted on what would be a contact lens and, essentially, programmed to block out certain light.

The titanium oxide crystals are embedded in precise positions and, when stretched out, they react in a particular way. The study is published in ACS Nano.

“With this technology, we now have the ability to develop lightweight wearable optical components, which also allow for the creation of futuristic devices, such as smart contact lenses or flexible ultrathin smartphone cameras,” said RMIT researcher Dr Philipp Gutruf.

A strong tide

This isn’t the first time that smart contact lenses have been mentioned this month, and it’s not the first time that Australian scientists have been behind it all.

A few weeks back, University of South Australia researchers 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.

The US approach to sight seems slightly different, though, with a Texan surgeon set to inject viruses laden with DNA from a light-sensitive algae into the eye of a legally blind person to try and ‘cure’ blindness.

This study is quite the first, and one we’ll keep tabs on.

Skin flint

But it’s not just eyes that are getting the fix, with smart skin on the way too. More for robotics than, say, humans needing skin grafts, the paper-based skin is made from recycled materials “using only items found in a typical household”.

The flexible, paper-based skin is layered onto a Post-it note, with paper, aluminum foil, lint-free wipes, and pencil lines acting as sensing components.

Eye image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic