By Andrea Pyka
Forget spending money on costly night-vision binoculars and state-of-the-art video-game systems. Engineers at the University of Washington (UW) are modifying the way you use your contact lenses.
Babak Parviz, assistant professor of electrical engineering at UW, is heading an ongoing project to install an electronic circuit onto a regular contact lens.
“We work on building small functional devices like electronics on unconventional substrates like glass and plastics,” Parviz said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “The contact lens is a perfect example of what you might do if you could put small devices on flexible plastics.”
Parviz, who works on nanotechnology and microfabrication, explained that the “bionic” contact lens consists of an electrical circuit made from nanometer-thin layers of metal.
By grinding metal components into a powder-like texture, Parviz and his team were able to pour the metal-powder mixed with fluid onto the surface of the lens. The mixture adheres to minor indents in the lens that create the foundation of the electric circuitry system.
Further testing enabled researchers to develop a way to install a miniature antenna without rupturing the delicate lens.
However, creating the new lenses was not easy. UW engineers initially had difficulty using toxic chemicals and boiling temperatures on the organic materials contained in the thin, flexible contact lenses that are safe for the body.
Parviz is currently researching methods to perfect the lens device so that it can be safely and comfortably worn.
The creation of the new contact lens would allow users to access the Internet wirelessly from just about anywhere through a virtual display screen only visible to the person wearing the lens.
“We are hoping that this contact lens will simplify interfacing with mobile and telecommunication devices,” Parviz said.
Future developments include nighttime vision and creating a virtual world for video-gamers without restricting the player’s range of motion or obstructing vision.
However, with so many plans for future installations, the “bionic” contact lens would not correct the user’s vision.
Before the contact lens becomes commercially available to the public, Parviz and his researchers still face several challenges including creating a power source and developing a specific pixel size.
“We are developing the lenses for both computing and biomedical applications as fast as we can,” he said. “I am hoping that [the contact lens] will act as a good example that engineering could be fun, creative, and useful.”
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