Electronic contact lenses have been around for a while, the first being experimented at the beginning of this decade, but they are still in the “prototype” stage. You may want to get an update on what is going on here.
There are several features that an electronic contact lens can offer, involving increasing degrees of complexity:
- Contact lenses with embedded chemical sensors, targeting the detection of specific molecules in the tears (like glucose to help people with diabetes). The issue is the accuracy of detection (in the sense of how much it relates to the actual presence in the body – sometimes it leads to an oversampling, sometimes to underestimate the value) that has hindered their commercialisation
- Contact lenses with pressure sensors to detect early signs of glaucoma in people at higher risk or monitoring the status of eye pressure. There area a number of prototypes but none has been considered ready for commercialisation.
- Contact lenses with an embedded micro camera to look at what you are looking at and providing feedback. They can be used by people with vision impairment with applications that convert the images into a meaningful signal that can be relayed to the brain (e.g. via a retinal implant like Argus II or providing an aural feedback).
- Contact lenses with a display that can let you see an image overlaid on what you are normally seeing. These can be used for Augmented Reality and have potentially a variety of applications (they might be a game changer according to many observers). So far the prototypes available can display very few pixels, too few actually to be useful.
Independently on the level of features all of the above types of electronic contact lenses are facing a number of issues that in practice are not making their use feasible today:
- the contact lenses need to be compatible with the eye physiology, i.e. you should be able to wear them without compromising the eye (irritating it, scarring it…)
- the contact lenses need to comunicate with some external device and that requires power. It is not possible (at least with today’s technology) to scavenge sufficient power from the surface of the eye so the power shall be provided from an external source via a electromagnetic field. The lens needs to have an antenna with the capacity of harvesting the EM field and this is constrained by the size of the antenna and the distance of the source.
- the contact lenses make some processes and the more processes is made the more heat is dissipated. Clearly there is a thresholds that cannot be passed (excessive heat would damage the eye). Embedded digital cameras and embedded screens clearly require more power than sensors.
These are big hurdles that need to be overcome before having prototypes becoming products. However these are “technical hurdles” and I have no doubt that they will be addressed and solved in the coming years. Electronic contact lenses usable as medical sensors may become reality in the next decade but those providing Augmented Reality may require 20 more years to become a product and possibly 10 more to become as pervasive as glasses are today.
Besides technical hurdles we are going to face (particularly for level 3 and 4 contact lenses) social and ethical problems, as it is the case whenever we are stepping in the domain of Augmented Humans. Clearly level 4 contact lenses would result in human augmentation and they will be an example of symbioses (the symbioses involves an autonomous system interacting with the human, in this case the contact lenses is a data converter, an interface between the human and the slate of AI applications that make sense of the data harvested and decide how to convert them into information to the wearer).
So far experiments are going on with rabbits (and care is taken not to damage in any way their eyes).
I guess a rabbit would enjoy much more a real carrot than a virtual one served as part of an augmented reality experiment using electronic contact lenses…