Telescopic 1.17mm-thin contact lenses provide 2.8x optical zoom

By on July 2, 2013, 1:00 PM

If you’re like me, you watch a movie like Ghost in the Shell, or read a book like Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and find yourself elated over the idea of augmenting humanity with cybernetic enhancements. Well, my fellow technophiles, we’re one step closer today with the invention of a telescopic contact lens that magnifies vision by nearly three times.

An international research team led by Joseph Ford of UCSD and Eric Tremblay of EPFL created the new contact lens that provides the wearer with 2.8x optical zoom. However, the real differentiator for this bionic device is its 1.17mm profile, making it the first telescopic lens thin enough to be worn comfortably over the human eye.

Previous telescopic vision utilities include 4.4mm-thick lenses that are too large to be comfortable, and telescopic glasses that are unattractive and unwieldy. Prior to these new lenses, the most recent advance was through surgically implanting a telescopic lens into the eye, which is very effective, but very invasive, and doesn’t provide excellent image quality, according to ExtremeTech.

The above image demonstrates the magnification effect, and as fantastic as it may be to consider having eagle-eye vision, this technology is being developed to aid people suffering from age-related macular degeneration. AMD affects the center of the retina, where the fovea inputs high-resolution images, but the outer region, or perifovea, generally still functions properly. These telescopic lenses work by focusing light into the outer region of the eye, allowing people suffering from AMD to see.

Developing a lens only 1.17mm thin took a great deal of ingenuity from the research team. In order to gain the 2.8x magnification, light is reflected four times within the lens before it exits towards the eye. It also corrects for chromatic aberration, which limits distortion and results in a relatively high fidelity image.

The lenses aren’t quite ready for market. They are currently made from a gas-impermeable polymer, PMMA, similar to older, more uncomfortable contact lenses. The researchers now have to switch to a rigid gas-permeable material like whats used in modern contact lenses to make them more comfortable and less fatiguing.

While these lenses are developed and designed to assist people with AMD, a healthy person could certainly wear them. However, we still have at least a few years to go before we get truly unobtrusive optical zoom lenses (hopefully with a built in HUD), as this technology requires a polarization lens to activate the effect. A simple set of active 3D glasses does the trick--switching them on turns on magnification. Hopefully folks who end up wearing these habitually will be outfitted with glasses that are a little more stylish than Samsung's.

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