Robotic Contact Lenses Let You Zoom in by Blinking

Contacts could soon not just correct, but enhance your vision.
••• Guido Mieth/DigitalVision/GettyImages

What if you could blink your eyes and zoom in instantly on an object far away? You wouldn't need special cameras, glasses or binoculars. Instead, you would wear robotic contact lenses. Researchers at the University of California San Diego have created soft lenses capable of zooming in.

Smart Contact Lenses

Although typical contact lenses can correct your vision or change your eye color, they can't give you superpowers. However, scientists at the University of California San Diego are changing this. They created robotic contact lenses that you can control by blinking.

When you make certain eye movements, the soft contact lenses respond. If you blink twice, then the lenses zoom in on an object or something else that you are viewing.

How the Contact Lenses Work

Researchers were able to make the robotic contact lenses work because your eyes have electric potential. You can measure a voltage difference in the eyes because the cornea is more positive, while the retina is more negative.

At the University of California San Diego, scientists relied on electrooculography (EOG), which measures the difference in the electrical charges between the cornea and retina. By tracking the electric signals that eyes make when they move, researchers created contact lenses that could respond to them.

The contact lenses have polymers inside that can react to electric signals. This allows them to zoom in when a person blinks twice. The lenses work even if the person keeps their eyes closed. Scientists hope this research will help them make better prosthetic eyes.

Bionic Eyes are Coming

The robotic contact lenses from the University of California San Diego aren’t the first experiment to create bionic eyes for humans. For example, the Orion cortical implant is designed to restore eyesight for those who are blind. It connects a camera to a brain implant without involving the eyes. Five people received the Orion implant and showed an improvement.

Not only could bionic eyes help people with partial or total vision loss, they could help others achieve superhuman vision. Since humans can only see the visible spectrum of light, bionic eyes create the possibility of expanding this to infrared, X-rays, ultraviolet and other light.

In the future, bionic eyes may make it possible to see through walls or zoom in on microscopic life by putting in a pair of contact lenses. They may show you how UV light affects your skin in real time, or how X-rays penetrate your body during an imaging test. From research to security, the potential uses are enormous.

Questions About Becoming Superhuman

As research continues to advance, it raises more questions about the ethics of people becoming superhuman. If the technology exists, should it be used to create a person with extraordinary powers? Bionic eyes, robotic limbs, brain implants and other tech could transform an average human, but is it fair to use these tools?

Any change to the human body comes with side effects and potential problems. The most serious may be your body rejecting implants or other tech and becoming ill or dying. Other issues may develop, such as the inability to remove the technology without damage or not being able to live without it. There is also the cost to consider: What happens if only the wealthy can afford to be superhuman?

The possibility of abusing tech and hacking into it always exists. Just imagine losing control of your arms or legs because of a hacker, and it's easy to see why some researchers worry about the future. For now, robotic contact lenses may seem like a fun novelty that doesn't have an effect on your life, but this could change soon.

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