Complex contacts

By • Published: May 7th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Remember in the old “Six Million Dollar Man” television show how the computer readout marvelously appeared in the hero’s vision, helping him size up foes?

About ten years later, a more refined kind of animated eyeballing showed up in the “Terminator” movies, with the anti-hero making the most of infrared vision and all sorts of nifty displays.

Well, once again, life imitates art.

It’s not quite a bionic eye, but University of Washington engineers have imprinted an electronic circuit and lights onto a contact lens.

They hope to create a device that will display information about faraway objects, or perhaps even let the viewer see virtual realities.

It’s too early to call your eye doctor, but engineers have overcome some significant manufacturing challenges.

To fit inside a contact lens, the electric circuits had to be only a few nanometers thick… about one thousandth the width of a hair.

Even at that tiny size, electricity generates heat. Engineers had to carefully merge the hardware with the soft materials used to make contact lenses.

When scientists tried the contacts in rabbits, the machinery apparently caused no discomfort or ill effects.

The next step is to light the lights. In other words, scientists want to generate a simple display that can be superimposed on the outside world.

Don’t expect to see “Google Earth,” but a few pixels worth of information may not be far off.

As the narrator for the “Six Million Dollar Man” show would say, “We have the technology.”