Researchers embed electronic circuit into a contact lens

Bionic eyes have come one step closer after the development of an electronic contact lens. Researchers at the University of Washington have used microscopic manufacturing techniques to embed an electronic circuit into a wearable, flexible contact lens.

The lens has been tested on rabbits for periods of 20 minutes and appears to be safe, said researchers. As well as a circuit, the lens is also embedded with tiny light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

"Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating, superimposed on the world outside," said Babak Parviz, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington.

The circuits were made from layers of metal only a few nanometres thick and the LEDs are one-third of a millimetre across. The greyish powder of electronic components was then sprinkled onto a sheet of flexible plastic. The shape of each component determined which piece it can attach to. Capillary forces (of the same kind that make water move up the roots of a plant) pulled the pieces into position.

Eventually, drivers or pilots could use such lenses to see their vehicle's speed projected onto the windshield. Video-game players could wear the contact lenses to immerse themselves in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. People could surf the Internet on a virtual screen that only they can see. Parviz plans to connect the lenses wirelessly. Power would come from harvesting radio waves.

"People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about. Our goal is to demonstrate the basic technology and make sure it works and that it's safe," said Parviz, who heads a multi-disciplinary group developing the electronics for the lenses within the University of Washington.

Image: Researchers have used rabbits to ascertain whether wearing the lens, which has metal connectors, is safe [University of Washington]

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