Optics specialist Eric Tremblay from EPFL in Switzerland unveils the latest prototype in the telescopic contact lens and debuts accessory wink-controlled glasses that switch between normal and 2.8x magnified vision.
An estimated 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. Age-related macular degeneration alone is the leading cause of blindness among older adults in the Western world. But this week at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California, Eric Tremblay from EPFL in Switzerland unveils a new prototype of his telescopic contact lens–the first of its kind–giving hope for better, stronger vision. The optics specialist also debuts complementary smart glasses that recognize winks and ignore blinks, allowing wearers of the contact lenses to switch between normal and magnified vision.
“We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” says Tremblay, an EPFL researcher whose collaborators include Joe Ford at the University of California, San Diego, and others at Paragon Vision Sciences, Innovega, Pacific Sciences and Engineering, and Rockwell Collins. “It’s very important and hard to strike a balance between function and the social costs of wearing any kind of bulky visual device. There is a strong need for something more integrated, and a contact lens is an attractive direction. At this point this is still research, but we are hopeful it will eventually become a real option for people with AMD.”
Inside the lens
The first iteration of the telescopic contact lens–which magnifies 2.8 times–was announced in 2013. Since then the scientists behind the DARPA-funded project have been fine-tuning the lens membranes and developing accessories to make the eyewear smarter and more comfortable for longer periods of time, and thus more usable in every day life.
The contacts work by incorporating a very thin reflective telescope inside a 1.55mm thick lens. Small mirrors within bounce light around, expanding the perceived size of objects and magnifying the view, so it’s like looking through low magnification binoculars.