Circuit Smart Contact Lens, Presaged By Niven, Barnes and Vinge
Contact lenses with imprinted electronic circuits and lights for augmented reality display vision are under development by University of Washington scientists.
(Contact lens with circuits worn by rabbit)
The UW engineers used microscopic scale manufacturing techniques to create a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with imprinted electronic circuits and lights. If used by human beings, a pair of contact lenses with circuits and lights would be the perfect display for augmented reality systems.
(Contact lens with circuits close-up)
The prototype device contains an electric circuit as well as red light-emitting diodes for a display, though it does not yet light up. The lenses were tested on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no adverse effects.
"Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside," said Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. "This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it's extremely promising."
Researchers built the circuits from layers of metal only a few nanometers thick, about one thousandth the width of a human hair, and constructed light-emitting diodes one third of a millimeter across. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens.
Science fiction readers are fortunate to have had this idea presented to them several years ago. In his 2001 novella Fast Times at Fairmont High, sf writer, computer scientist and mathematician Vernor Vinge described a near-future world in which everyone used smart contact lens displays. In his 2006 novel Rainbows End, set in the same milieu, he describes them this way:
Miri... leaned her head forward, and stuck a finger close to her right eye. "You already know about contacts, right? Wanna see one?" Her hand came away from her eye. A tiny disk sat on the tip of her middle finger. It was the size and shape of the contact lenses he had known. He hadn't expected more, but... he bent closed and looked. After a moment, he realized that it was not quite a clear lens. Speckles of colored brightness swirled and gathered in it. "I'm driving it at safety max, or you wouldn't see the lights." The tiny lens became hazy, then frosty white. "Uk. It powered down. But you get the idea.."
(Read more about Vinge's smart contact lenses)
The results were presented today at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of Parviz's now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. Other co-authors are Ehsan Saeedi and Samuel Kim in the UW's electrical engineering department and Tueng Shen in the UW Medical Center's ophthalmology department.
A full-fledged display won't be available for a while, but a version that has a basic display with just a few pixels could be operational "fairly quickly," according to Parviz.
Update 21-Jan-08: According to Babak Parviz, he and his colleagues got started on this idea in 2004; he hadn't heard about the Vinge story. End update.
I wrote Vernor Vinge and asked him whether or not he was familiar with Parviz' research. He replied that he was not. I asked him how he thought of the idea:
"I think I had these in "Fast Times at Fairmont High" (2001).
Basically I wanted an augmented reality display that wouldn't involve
implants but which would not appear intrusive.
The full-bore invention will be a real challenge: the form factor,
the power supply, the transparency management, the wireless
networking, the very accurate overlay positioning.
However, lightweight head-up displays will probably take off
incrementally (and soon!) and that process should be very fun to track."
I corrected the article and the reference to reflect the earlier time. Note that Vinge also mentioned "I bet there is prior sf'nal art on this!"
Thanks to diligent and alert readers, I can add to (keep correcting!) the story. In their 1992 collaboration The California Voodoo Game, Larry Niven and Steven Barnes wrote about scleral contact lenses:
To Nigel Bishop, the walls had become blue glass. He saw and evaluated holographic projection equipment, fiber optics, electrical and plumbing, communications...
His eyes no longer resembled human eyes...
"Scleral lenses?" she asked. "You've got DreamTime technology in contact lenses? That's not available to the public!"
(Read more about Niven and Barnes' DreamTime scleral contact lenses)
It seems clear that the scleral contacts describe a display upon which images or data can be viewed, and the images do not appear to be projected from elsewhere upon the surface of the lens.
Read about other efforts at establishing augmented reality displays:
Via Contact lenses with circuits, lights a possible platform for superhuman vision; thanks to Misja van Laatum for writing in with the tip on the story.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/17/2008)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 29 )
Related News Stories -
Organic Photonic Skin Display
'A strip of readout skin on my wrist...' - John Varley, 1992.
Samsung Patent For Smart Contact Lens Camera Granted
'He realized that it was not quite a clear lens.' - Vernor Vinge, 2001.
LG's Rollable Display Video Is Amazing
Rollable maps, oh yes, please.
LG's Rollable Newspaper Display
'A wide sheet of clear material suddenly flared with light and swirling colour....' - EC Tubb, 1958.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Ignition Interlock Devices Stopped 1.7 Million Drunken Tries
'Maybe the car was right...'
Man Filmed Sleeping In Tesla On Autopilot
'Mary Risling settled back for a little nap...'
Otto Self-Driving Truck Kits
'Trucks gulped packages and scurried like beetles...'
Humans Help Robots Identify Recyclables
'You give it a good look... then press the right button and in she goes.'
Is This Robotic Hand As Quick As Yours?
'V-Stephen's surgeon-hand, a self-contained robot of precision quality...'
DARPA's XS-1 Spaceplane
'They were more airplane than spaceship...'
Douglas Adams Your Babel Fish Is Ready - The Pilot By Waverly
'You'll need to have this fish in your ear.'
OMG! DIY Arduino Robot Vacuum Cleaner Like Bradbury's Mice
'Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted.'
NASA Culturing ISS Walls For Microbes
'Collect organisms and dust for study...'
Siemens 3D Printing Robot Spiders
'The eight thin metallic legs were pointed downwards, balanced delicately...'
Implants Melt In Your Brain, Not In Your Hands
Implant and forget - they melt in your brain, not in your hands.
Baby Boomers Will LOVE Autonomous Cars (Trust Me!)
'Old people began to cross the continent in their own cars....'
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet Tests His Suit
'The interior will be like airless and pressure-less space.'
DIY Method To Summon Tesla With Amazon Echo
'Thomas focussed the violet beam of a hand flash on a plate...'
AI Lawyer 'Ross' Gets First Job
'Why don't we just feed the bloody thing to LEX...'
MIT's Second Skin Enhances Original Skin
'I must care, or I wouldn't live in this lying skin suit...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories