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Contact lenses usher in the virtual reality revolution

As modern inventions go, virtual reality headsets are among the most exciting. The idea of slipping into a virtual world, interacting with fantastical environments and characters, is a prospect with unlimited potential.

Following a high-profile $2 billion acquisition by Facebook last year, fledgling company Oculus VR proved that its own headset, the Oculus Rift, is worth getting excited about. Since then, a number of other tech companies, from Sony to Google, have jumped aboard the virtual reality train. After decades of overambitious failures and disappointments, the technology for immersive virtual reality is really here.

Oculus leads the way

Oculus Rift virtual reality headsetThanks to the Oculus Rift headset’s clever use of lenses, motion detection and low latency screen, the user is instantly transported into another world. Whether that means a tour of our solar system, riding a terrifying rollercoaster, or just wandering through a 3D mock-up of your future home, the results are breathtaking.

Unfortunately for some visually impaired users, the Oculus Rift can present an issue when it comes to wearing glasses.

The physical design of the Development Kit models are not wholly conducive to wearing an additional set of lenses, making it a potentially uncomfortable experience. Additionally, as anyone that’s tried watching a movie with both spectacles and 3D Glasses will tell you, there can be an issue with distracting reflections and lens flare.

Thankfully, contact lenses are able to immediately remedy this set of problems. By design, contact lenses do nothing to lessen the comfort of wearing an Oculus Rift (or any other competing devices.) There’s also no issue with off-putting reflections or lens flare, as there is no gap between the contact lenses and the eye itself. The Development Kits also come with three sets of removable lenses, which can alter the screens position to compensate for visual impairment.

2015 and beyond…

Tuscany demo oculus

With all this in mind, there’s one question that’s just begging to be asked. Why not cut out the need for a headset, and put the technology within contact lenses in the first place?

In the race for non-intrusive virtual reality technology, it’s something that tech companies and inventors have been asking for decades. In fact, contact lens VR is a lot closer than you might think.

Washington tech company Innovega began flaunting its iOptik contact lenses last year. Unlike the Oculus Rift headset, the iOptik doesn’t aim to take you into a totally virtual world. Instead, the lenses are embedded with micro-components that augment images on top of what you’re already seeing.

This idea of an ‘augmented’ reality has most famously been explored by Google Glass, which takes the form of a slim headset that places a tiny screen in the top-right corner of the eye’s vision. The iOptik offers a relatively elegant solution - the contact lens design far less intrusive, and it’s able to augment images anywhere within the eye’s field of vision.

With the consumer release of the Oculus Rift expected to arrive later this year, 2015 will be host to the beginnings of a virtual reality revolution - and it’s clear that contact lenses will play an important part in this technological upheaval.