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Telescopic contact lens prototype

The future of the telescopic contact lens

A regular contact lens can sometimes feel like it has telescopic powers, transforming distant blurs into sharp focus. However, there are no super-human, zoom-in features at play with a regular lens, and your crisp, clear vision is simply a result of the lens correcting your vision to a normal level.

Until now that is…

A group of scientists led by Eric Tremblay of Ecole Polytechique Fédérale (EPFL) in Switzerland have teamed up with Joseph Ford and his researchers at the University of California to create a telescopic contact lens. The first of its kind in the world, this lens will allow the wearer to zoom in on an object 2.8 times using a wink detector. 

The project aims to offer a solution for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the No. 1 cause of legal blindness in people over 55. While there is no real cure for AMD, current treatments include implanting a miniature telescope into the eye. Trambley and Ford both agree that this telescopic lens will offer an “attractive compromise” for the treatment of AMD, as it is much less invasive than an implant into the eye.

At first glance this might seem like a futuristic idea, but an initial attempt to create a telescopic contact lens was made in 1956. Although without the innovation and support of modern optical technology, the inventor wasn’t successful in the way Trambley and Ford’s teams have been so far.

How can a contact lens have a zoom in feature?

The contact lens is 1mm thick and is made up of a non-magnified centre which is encircled by a ring of optics. The centre allows light to pass through as normal, offering normal vision, while the ring of optics work like tiny mirrors to magnify vision by 2.8 times. When the centre is covered up, objects will appear magnified. The centre can be covered or uncovered through a wink detection feature,  allowing the lens wearer  to switch between normal and telescopic vision.

It’s still rough around the edges

This revolutionary piece of technology still has a fair way to go. The wearer of the lens will need to don a pair of modified 3D TV glasses to make the switch from normal to telescopic vision, and the zoomed in vision is currently unclear and fuzzy.

The lens is also made of gas permeable material, which means it’s not suitable to wear for long periods as the lens can block natural levels of oxygen from getting into the eye.

Fast forward to the future

The telescopic lens is just one of many futuristic optical projects that have surfaced over the last couple of years. The breakthrough in contact lens LCD technology that displays SMS message and images, and the much anticipated public release of Google Glass by the end of 2013 have generated a huge amount of hype around the future of optical technology.

Questions have been raised around the future of the telescopic lens, many wondering whether it’s a technology that will be used to benefit the military. The project is in part funded by DARPA, the US Department of Defence’s research arm – so the possibility of super soldiers may not be too far away!