Contact lens technology has undergone some huge advancements over the years. Innovations have given people the opportunity to correct a wider range of vision problems and improve their eyesight.
In addition to doing this, it has also led to investment in and development of life-changing high-tech contact lenses.
How do smart contact lenses work?
Smart contact lenses work by featuring micro versions of tools. This will enable a lens that can not only enhance eyesight but also dramatically change vision in a way that will be life-changing for the wearer.
Who invented smart contact lenses?
There is no single company or individual who is accredited as the developer of the very first smart contact lens. Largely this is because the definition of a smart contact lens can be interpreted in a number of ways.
For example, contact lenses which are available on the market that use material science technology to improve vision and the contact lens wearing experience were the first pioneering smart lenses.
The first pioneer of its kind in contact lens material, Water Gradient Technology by Alcon delivers on-eye wettability for all-day comfort and hydration by increasing water content near the outer lens surface, providing a cushion of moisture where the lens makes contact with the eye.
Now, Mojo Vision is widely attributed as the company which is winning the race to bring the first digital smart contact lens to market.
Which companies are working on smart contact lenses?
There are plenty of companies to have joined the race to develop smart contact lenses and bring them to the public. Those companies which have been researching and developing smart contact lenses in recent years include:
- Mojo Vision
- Verily (Google/Alphabet)
- Novaritis + Google
- Magic Leap + Google
- Medella Health
- Swiss Federal Institute of technology
- Columbia University Medical Centre
- Baylor College of Medicine
- University of Michigan
- University of Surrey
- University of Wisconsin – Madison / Deep Optics
- IMT Atlantique
- Luxexcel (a Meta company)
- & more
What can smart contact lenses do?
Scientists are currently developing and experimenting with smart lenses and their potential to treat eye diseases and more.
From monitoring eye health with lenses that deliver drugs to the eyes, to lenses that will incorporate augmented reality. Whilst these futuristic lenses aren't yet available for consumer use, some are already in the process of being tested in clinical trials. Here are the latest innovations in contact lens technology.
Telescopic contact lenses
Telescopic contact lenses are currently in development by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
These high-tech lenses will allow wearers to have objects appear 2.8 times larger than they actually are. The wearer will need to wink with one eye which will cause their vision to 'zoom in' similarly to a camera.
The telescopic contact lens is designed with miniature aluminium mirrors which are arranged around the centre in a ring. They work with a polarising filter to bounce light around, magnifying objects and expanding the size of objects.
These telescopic lenses are believed to be especially beneficial for those with macular degeneration.
Contact lens camera
Despite the disappointment around Google Glass high-tech specs, in 2014 Google began the process of developing a contact lens which acts as a camera when you blink.
These lenses have the potential to help the blind across the road and navigate their everyday surroundings. It aims to do this by taking pictures and sending signals to the wearer's smartphone to warn them of a busy road etc.
While Google Glass may have been benched, a camera contact lens may still be on the cards.
3D-printed contact lenses
3D printers are getting more and more advanced and, with modern materials can print almost anything. Nevertheless, when it comes to manufacturing contact lenses, precision is key as contact lenses require exact specifications and are crafted from delicate materials.
Tech companies have struggled to create a printer safe enough to produce contact lenses, however, one Dutch company Luxexcel began working on this process in 2019 before it was bought by Meta.
Augmented reality contact lenses
The tech company Innovega is currently looking at creating contact lenses which incorporate augmented reality. Its iOptik system is a device which takes the form of a contact lens and will be able to display the same features as a smartphone, including satellite navigation, social media and video chat.
With the launch of Apple’s Apple Vision XR (extended reality) headset, there could be higher demand for portable, wearable XR vision tools that combine digital, virtual and the real world. A contact lens version could be the one to beat the market.
Samsung is also looking at developing smart contact lenses that will give you the ability to control your smartphone remotely. These lenses will feature motion sensors that will allow the wearer to control devices by using peripheral vision and blinking.
Metaverse access contact lenses
California-based tech company InWith is developing something its researchers are calling the first “tunable-vision” contact lens, with the promise of enabling metaverse applications. Showcased at CES 2022, InWith’s contact lens offers potential for the next big step in AR vision.
Thermal vision lenses
The University of Michigan began developing thermal vision contact lens technology way back in 2014. Designed to allow soldiers to see at night by detecting the heat produced by humans, animals, vehicles and devices, the lenses would use infrared detectors that are already being used in the military and beyond. Although there is no evidence that these lenses have successfully been implemented, the benefits of ditching heavy equipment in favour of a wearable lens that can achieve the same thing are manifold.
Holographic pointer contact lenses
A study published in April 2023 explored the functional considerations and possibilities of a laser pointer embedded into a contact lens.
Although the technology is in the early stages at this point, the scientists behind its development report successful results for target designation. With hopes that this technology can produce a use-case for eye tracking, there is potential for a number of practical applications yet to be put to the test.
Auto-focusing contact lenses
The engineering department at Wisconsin University has been working on an auto-focus contact lens that could allow lens wearers to see clearly at different distances. The technology would work by following eye movements to detect the desired area of focus. People with multiple prescriptions or presbyopia would be the primary benefactors of this product, should it reach the market.
Ongoing research is under way at the University of California San Diego as well as Google in partnership with Novartis.
Glucose monitoring contact lenses
It is essential for those who are diabetic to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels, however, the process of drawing blood every day in order to do this is an inconvenient one.
Scientists at Google are currently working on smart contact lenses to eliminate the disruptive process of drawing blood every day. The smart lens will contain a small chip and glucose sensor in order to track glucose levels without drawing blood.
Whilst the device is not currently ready for clinical trials, it's potential to monitor blood glucose levels could be life-changing for diabetics.
Nanowafer contact lenses
Nanowafer contact lenses are super thin lenses that can deliver glaucoma medicine to the eye over long periods of time.
Developed by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Dallas, these high-tech contact lenses are designed to dissolve slowly, releasing small doses of drugs into the eye as they do. This eliminates the necessity to use eye drops and offers a more effective way of delivering medicine to the eye in steady doses.
Wound healing contact lenses
Electrical bandage contact lenses (EBCL) have been developed to help avoid severe vision impairment or blindness caused by corneal injury. Wireless-powered versions are in development and are being tested by researchers, which show some success at healing corneal ulcers.
The technology works by generating a localised external electric field to the target area of the eye to accelerate corneal wound healing and long-term vision recovery.
Light reactive contact lenses
Vision can be impacted by bright lighting, and certain conditions can be painful for contact lens wearers. Those who suffer from light sensitivity may struggle especially with daylight or fluorescent lighting conditions. In 2018, Acuvue released Acuvue OASYS With Transitions lenses, which adapt to changes of light. Although they are not a substitute for a decent pair of UV400 sunglasses, they can help to ease day-to-day sensitivity and discomfort.
Contact lenses for colour blindness
It’s estimated that around 7-8% of people struggle with colour blindness worldwide. It can stop many people from being able to do everyday tasks such as driving or creative work. Contact lenses to correct colour blindness have been developed to filter light wavelengths, which can enhance contrast and allow the user to differentiate between colours.