High-Tech Contact Lenses

Look out Google Glass—a new kind of eye enhancement technology is in the works.

Researchers from the Wearable Computing Group in Zurich, Switzerland have given contact lenses a futuristic upgrade. They've developed a light, flexible, ultra-thin membrane with the potential to detect fluid buildup in the eye, called intraocular pressure, in cases of glaucoma. 

“[T]he developed technology could find application as smart contact lenses able to monitor and diagnose glaucoma disease, and it could offer significant advantages over existing solutions in terms of thickness, lightness, and transparency and, hence, comfort for the patient,” the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Learn About Glaucoma Symptoms and Treatments »

How Does It Work?

The device consists of layered polymer films, one layer of which is a semiconductor. Gauge sensors in the device monitor intraocular pressure in response to strain, which is crucial for detecting the high eye pressure typical of glaucoma.

In trials, the scientists transferred the material onto plastic contact lenses on an artificial eye.

Explore the Eye in 3D »

At just one micrometer thick, the films could also be applied to many other devices making their way into the mainstream.   

“Rollable displays, conformable sensors, plastic solar cells, and flexible batteries promise to change our daily life like CMOS technology [used in devices such as computer microprocessors] did in the past decades,” the researchers predict.

They note that certain restraints, including high cost, have kept this kind of technology from emerging at a faster rate, but they are hopeful that as the engineering continues to advance costs will fall. 

What Else Could This Technology Do? 

The market for wearable technology is growing, from gloves to glasses. 

The biocompatible nature of these polymer films means that contact lenses are just one way the technology could be put to use in or on the body. And the membranes can also be transferred onto organic or inorganic tissues. 

“The smart contact lens application, demonstrated here, presents just one example of the type of system that can be realized by the reported process,” the researchers wrote. “Ultra-light solar cells, implantable devices, smart-skin, and electronic textiles are also envisioned as possible future applications.”

Read More: The Home HealthTesting Revolution »

And speaking of Google Glass, Bloomberg reports that members of Google's R&D team are scheduled to meet with the FDA this year, perhaps to discuss the design for a contact lens that combines health monitoring technology with a camera and antenna for the ultimate in bionic eyewear.