Eye is second only to brain as the most complex organ in the human body, and its ability to view millions of colours in an intricate mechanism infinitely more complex than a modern-day camera bears testament to nature’s marvel. However, nature’s limits are now being tested in research work carried out by Prof. Babak Parviz of University of Washington. Prof. Parviz claims to have made use of augmented reality in exclusively manufactured contact lenses to produce a superimposed field of vision that could signal an era where the futuristic Cyborg eye of Terminator movies fame will cease to be a fantasy.
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Prof. Babak Parviz’s revelation published in Spectrum IEEE, in an article authored by the professor himself, discusses how augmented reality and specially built contact lenses on flexible and transparent polymer with miniscule circuits could alter our day-to-day lives. Although imminent use of this is for enhanced vision, he feels that non-intrusive tracking of wearers' bio-markers and health indicators such as blood sugar level could open up a huge future market.
According to Prof. Parviz, his students have already created a lens with a RF powered single LED, integrated in polymer-based contact lenses carrying miniature circuits and antennae. As further progress is made, hundreds of LEDs would be added, enabling images to be seen in front of the eye, a hallmark of augmented reality technology. He feels that in all probability a separate mobile device will be used to transmit the information required for forming images to the lens’s control circuit, in charge of the optoelectronics in the lens.
Prof. Parviz also confirms that his students were successful in building numerous basic sensors that are capable of recognizing a molecule’s concentration and once these sensors are built into the lenses, they allow wireless transmission of data pertaining to the molecule. He explains this with the example of diabetic patients who could monitor their blood sugar level without the need to prick, and with added wireless capability, allow the lens to transmit data wirelessly to medical staff. This would eliminate the need for a traditional lab solution and in the process, lessen the chance of administrative errors.
The work is also not without some mind-boggling technical challenges and Prof. Parviz speaks of three fundamental issues. Firstly the incompatibility of the majority of lens parts and subsystems with each other and lens polymer, solved by creating all devices from scratch. Secondly, the arduous task of miniaturising and integrating key components of the lens into a tiny 1.5 square cms of a flexible polymer, which he feels is yet to be solved satisfactorily. The final challenge concerns the safety of the eye, which he illustrates by pointing to the use of toxic aluminium gallium arsenide in the manufacture of red LEDs, which needs to be encapsulated in a biocompatible material to alleviate the issue.
What is fascinating about this remarkable work is that it opens up a whole new frontier and the Prof. Parviz confidently predicts even more startling uses that include speech translation into real time captions, and visual cues from a navigation system. Prof. Parviz’s vision of the future where the fusion of highly sophisticated, display-capable contact lenses, augmented reality technology and the power of the internet seem an exciting prospect and bring a large portfolio of remarkable uses. Add to that its ability to be life-saving and we have a much needed vision for the future indeed.