Need A Close-Up? Get Ready For Contact Lenses That Zoom

Need A Close-Up? Get Ready For Contact Lenses That Zoom

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have unveiled a magnifying contact lens that can zoom in and out - with a wink. Each 1.55-millimeter-thick lens contains a super-thin reflective telescope with tiny mirrors that bounce light around to create magnification much the way binoculars do, increasing the perceived size of objects and magnifying the view 2.8 times.

The lenses work together with a pair of electronic smart glasses that recognize eyelid movements, allowing the wearer to turn the zoom function on and off simply by winking. To switch to zoom view, all the user has to do is wink their right eye, interrupting the light reflected from the contacts to the glasses. To switch back to normal vision, they just need to wink their left eye.

Still in the prototype stage, these visual aids could be useful for people with visual impairment, which affects 285 million people worldwide, and especially in cases of macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in adults over 50. Currently there are bioptic telescope glasses that can help people with this condition, but they’re bulky and socially awkward, whereas the new telescopic contacts are much less intrusive. Comprising precision-cut plastic with aluminum mirrors and polarizing films, the lenses are rigid and larger than your standard lens, covering the whites of the eyes.

The telescopes built into the lenses were first developed as super-thin cameras for aerial drones before being converted into a vision-enhancing system in 2013. Scientists have since been improving the system to make the lenses and accompanying glasses easier to wear for longer. Earlier models could only be worn for short periods of time because they restricted air to the eye surface. By adding tiny channels in the lenses that increase airflow to the cornea, scientists have lengthened the time they can be worn. Still, the lenses haven’t been tested on humans, so it will take some more time before they reach the market. But for millions of people, they are definitely something to zoom forward to.