All The Crazy Things Future Contact Lenses Could Do

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

Though virtual reality is very much the flavour of the year, it’s just a matter of time before something more advanced and less in your face -- so to speak -- arrives on the scene. Yes, we’re talking about smart contact lenses.

Tech giants including Google and Sony are known to have more than a mere passing interest in the category, but what would their future creations actually do? We’ve squinted and squirmed our way through the patent applications so you don’t have to.

Augmented Reality

It seems strange that such an impressive use case barely causes a stir these days -- cheers, Glassholes -- but augmented reality is the most commonly-cited feature of future contacts. Samsung has an on-paper creation that would connect to a smartphone (wirelessly, of course) and use cameras, motion sensors and transmitters to overlay information on physical objects.

The eyepiece would theoretically make it easier to read maps and search for information, such as restaurant reviews and weather info, while on the move. Simply put, Google Glass without the obvious dorkiness.


Finished shuddering yet? Sony last month revealed plans to create the muggle version of a Pensieve. Its patented set of smart contacts would record footage on command, so you could essentially extract memories from your head. Special sensors would be able to tell the difference between natural (just keeping my eyes moist here) and deliberate (sexy person, got to film sexy person) blinks, so you wouldn’t even need to undergo an operation to get a red record button install on your temple.

Image capturing and -- crucially -- storage technology would also need to be embedded, and I don't envy the people who've been lumbered with that job. However, imagine if they managed to make it work. Everybody would instantly gain a photographic memory, POV porn would be realer and filthier than anything we’ve ever seen before and you’d be able to document every single second of your waking life.

Hopefully you wouldn’t need to stuff a cable up your backside to extract those memories. A wand just seems so much more convenient.

Infrared Vision

If the University of Michigan's work goes to plan, you could soon stalk the streets after dark like a twisted Predator wannabe. Engineers have worked out that they can create night vision images using super-thin layers of graphene.

It's all rather tough to explain without using intricate hand movements and the word 'like' over and over again, so I'll leave you with the scientists' words:

To make the device, they put an insulating barrier layer between two graphene sheets. The bottom layer had a current running through it. When light hit the top layer, it freed electrons, creating positively charged holes. Then, the electrons used a quantum mechanical trick to slip through the barrier and into the bottom layer of graphene. The positively charged holes, left behind in the top layer, produced an electric field that affected the flow of electricity through the bottom layer. By measuring the change in current, the team could deduce the brightness of the light hitting the graphene. The new approach allowed the sensitivity of a room-temperature graphene device to compete with that of cooled mid-infrared detectors for the first time.

That's right. Heat vision lenses. 

Health Monitoring

Don’t roll your eyes. Though many of the chaps behind fitness and wellbeing gadgets are anything but healthy, they’re here and they’re here to stay (the devices, not the people). One of Google’s visions -- you like that one? -- for future contact lenses is a pair designed for diabetics, which could monitor your blood glucose levels, you know, without you actually having to bleed.

It’s working with Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis on the project, and has even created a health-focused Life Science team to build the lenses. And if they happen to be solar-powered, even better.

Actual Improved Eyesight

With all this talk of fancy AR and photography features, it can be easy to drown in tech and simply forget that the contact lens is designed primarily to improve poor-sighted people’s vision. Fortunately, there seems to be a least one smart contact lens maker that has kept that in mind.

It requires an 8-minute surgical procedure -- so you may wish to consider laser eye treatment as an alternative -- but Dr Garth Webb's Ocumetrics Bionic Lens sounds like it was plucked straight out of a cartoon. As well as blessing you with the 20/20 vision you've always craved, it could also allow you to channel your inner bird of prey by zooming in to real life.

Make my eyes look like an owl's, and I'm in.

Images: ArsTechnica, WoP, Robert Hocker via Flickr