Will smart contact lenses replace the smartphone?

Google with the wink of an eye. Will anyone still remember the Wi-Fi symbol in 2100? That little icon with three curved lines above a dot indicating the presence of a wireless network? Probably not, because in the future, everything will be wirelessly networked.

According to American physicist Michio Kaku, access to the Internet will no longer require computers or smartphones: “The Internet is going to be in our contact lens”. In 2008, engineers at the University of Washington developed the first smart contact lens with imprinted electronic circuitry.

Since then, Sony, Samsung, EPGLMed, Google and other companies have been working on a market-ready version of the technological breakthrough aimed at opening a new dimension of human vision. This promises to be the tool that helps improve human health and provides access to the whole world of knowledge in real time: Google with the wink of an eye.

Extended Vision. Exchanging information between a smart lens and a network requires Interscatter Communication. Developed in 2016, this technology converts Bluetooth signals – sent from a contact lens – into Wi-Fi signals.

In the same year, Sony and Samsung registered patents for smart lenses capable of recording photos and videos. The lenses use augmented reality (AR) to supplement what the eye sees with information from the web. Introduced in May 2017, Google Lens technology makes AR overlays possible, essentially transforming a smartphone camera into a search engine.

For example, when you scan a row of storefronts with Google Lens, artificial intelligence extracts data from the image and displays real-time information about the stores.

Lens as Thin as an Atom. Smart lenses rarely reach the prototype phase. But the progressive miniaturization of hardware combined with new materials and manufacturing methods means there is hope that they will one day succeed.

A metamaterial recently developed in the USA (June 2017) is as flat as paper yet still functions as a lens. It consists of millions of microscopic titanium oxide columns barely 600 nanometers high – and roughly equivalent to a stack of five hydrogen atoms. 3D printing can also be used to produce tiny lenses on a chip the size of a one-cent coin.

This technological wonder could never be produced by hand. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart have been working on the development of an electronic eagle’s eye since 2010. The device delivers sharp images of objects close-up or far away – simultaneously!

This is similar to the way an eagle perfectly sees its prey several hundred meters below and, at the same time, uses its peripheral vision to scan a safe flight path and spot any signs of danger on the way down. Harald Giessen and his team unveiled the lens concept in early 2017 to a world eagerly waiting for a new lens technology capable of improving everything from drones and self-driving cars, to robots and smartphones.

The Noblest of all Senses. “Our entire lives depend on our senses. And because the sense of sight is the most comprehensive and noblest of them all, inventions that enhance visual perception are undoubtedly the most useful imaginable.” What French philosopher René Descartes proclaimed during the Renaissance in 1637, still applies in the present day.

Back then, eyeglasses increased human performance and productivity. Today, smartphones and smart glasses turn the environment into a digital wonder world and connect users to the knowledge of our time. Imagine how this potential will increase when these processes are controlled by the eye alone – hands-free!

With advances in technology continuing at such a rapid pace, the age of smartphones may be over sooner than we think. In the future, all it will take is a light touch of a finger on the temple and the human eye will zoom in with 3x magnification, adjust the contrast, and deliver a crystal-clear 32K image. Is the smart lens only a precursor of what is yet to come in the new age of neuro devices?