Wednesday, January 31, 2018 by David Williams
If you thought that the pinnacle of contact lens technology has already been reached, think again. A group of researchers from South Korea has now shown — through a new paper published recently in the journal Science Advances— that it may be possible to bestow simple augmented reality (AR) functionality and other neat little tricks to contact lenses, thereby making them “smart” contact lenses.
Smart contact lenses, at first, might seem like an impossibility. After all, where could you possibly fit all of the technology that would be required to render anything onto a user’s peripheral vision, giving them information that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to? The researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have come up with a method that uses light and transparent nanomaterial technology to make it possible. And they’ve hand-picked a number of extra features that users will be able to benefit from.
The researchers chose to focus on the potential of the smart contact lenses for quick and easy glucose monitoring that would eliminate the need to draw any blood from patients. By simply wearing their conceptualized contacts, users will be able to track their own body’s glucose levels just by checking the status of a built-in LED light on the lens itself. The contacts will have an onboard fluid monitor that causes the LED light to switch off when it detects that the fluid levels are too high.
As the researchers note in their paper, there are many potential uses for their discovery. “This soft, smart contact lens provides a platform for wireless, continuous, and non-invasive monitoring of physiological conditions, as well as the detection of biomarkers associated with ocular and other diseases.” They also added: “In addition, it offers the potential for expanded applicability in other areas, such as smart devices for drug delivery and augmented reality.”
In their paper, the researchers listed some of the components that are part of their current smart contact lens setup. According to their list, apart from the soft contact lens which serves as the biggest component of all, there’s also a stretchable antenna, an LED display, a rectifier, and a glucose sensor. While this might seem like quite a lot of equipment, it’s just the right set of parts needed to complete the tasks that the researchers have specified.
“The wearer’s view will not be obstructed because the contact lenses are made of transparent nanomaterials,” explained the researchers. They also made it a point to clarify that the lenses can provide superb reliability “because they can undergo the mechanical deformations required to fit them into the soft lens without the damage.” The researchers view the creation of these smart contact lenses as a breakthrough primarily because they enable real-time monitoring without causing too much trouble to users.
So far, the researchers have only conducted initial tests of their smart contact lens technology on rabbits. But they are continuously tweaking it for further experiments, as they are looking perfect this potentially game-changing technology for the medical field. Compared with traditionally invasive ways of checking blood glucose levels in patients, the use of these smart contact lenses is likely going to be the preferred method if they prove effective enough. But that’s probably quite a long way away, so anyone looking forward to using them will have to contend with simple and ordinary contact lenses for now.
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