Scientists at the University of California San Diego have managed to create a prototype contact lens that can be controlled by the eye's movements. Wearers can "command" the lenses to zoom in or out just by blinking twice, for instance.
The biometric lenses are made of flexible polymer films that respond to the electric signals the wearer's eyes generate when they move. Such signals are called electrooculographic signals, and humans can give them out even when they're sleeping.
The team published a paper detailing their findings in Advanced Functional Materials.
Zoomable Contact Lenses
If this breakthrough technology sound like something out of a science-fiction novel, that's because it kind of is. Of course, it's still very early, and it will take years before the contact lenses can function as promised directly on a human eye, as Gizmodo points out.
For now, the prototype is only operational on a special rig that employs several components. These components will have to be radically miniaturized before a human can wear it. Even still, it demonstrates what's possible with current technology.
Being able to control something using hands-free gestures isn't something particularly innovative, but implementing that system in the context of contact lenses is potentially groundbreaking. This approach has been used to allow people with very limited body movement to control and steer a wheelchair, for example. The team believes this could be used to do a number of things besides just zooming on command.
For example, by looking down, the wearer can automatically adjust the lenses' focus on near objects, such as the words on a page in a book. Then glancing back up would automatically adjust the focus as well.
Again, there's a lot of work to be done before people can take advantage of such a technology. Right now, it's very likely few people would be willing to walk around with electrodes stuck all over their faces, so the scientists first have to refine the prototype into something more user-friendly. In other words, they have to find a way to integrate all the electronics into the lens themselves, which already sounds like a tall order that will require some major funding.
Just to offer some perspective, even a company as massive as Google gave up on making a smart contact lens to monitor blood sugar levels. Which is to say it's best to taper expectations. Still, it's awfully difficult not to get excited given the implications of this new technology.