DARPA sets sights on high-tech contact lenses

Apr 15, 2012 by Nancy Owano report
 iOptik contact lens

(Phys.org) -- A Bellevue, Washington, company specializing in display technology based on eyewear and contact lenses has sealed a deal with DARPA. Innovega, which says its technology can open a “new dimension to virtual and augmented reality applications,” told the BBC earlier this week that it has signed a contract to deliver a prototype of its iOptik display system to DARPA. That system consists of special contact lenses and eyeglasses. The product is touted to be a better solution than bulky heads-up display systems of the past. Screens sit directly on users' eyeballs and work with a pair of special lightweight glasses.

Head-up-displays, for , have been an area for funded research, for better enabling those in the military to view superimposed data over normal views. Innovega’s distinguishing feature, as the company describes it, is in the form factor. The HUD is more like sunglasses than other hefty HUD display sets designed for the military. The iOptic system is made to enhance normal vision by allowing a wearer to view virtual and images without the need for bulky apparatus.

From the military vantage point, the glasses plus lenses system would give the battlefield combatants enhanced views of battlefield data. According to DARPA, “Instead of oversized virtual reality helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-color displays that are very near the eye. These novel allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away. This could improve ability to use tiny portable displays while sill interacting with the surrounding environment.”

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The development is part of DARPA’s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC). The program seeks to explore joint design of hardware and software that can give “warfighters access to systems that greatly enhance their awareness, security and survivability.”

Users can look at two things at once, both the information projected and the more distant view. The retina receives each image in focus. The engineers used nanoscale techniques to develop the lenses, so that they can work as a focusing device with the glasses. The ability to focus the near-eye image is achieved by embedding optical elements inside the iOptik contact lens, according to Innovega. The micro-components do not interfere with the wearer’s normal vision.

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The company says its system affords the human eye to see near-to-eye micro-display information simultaneously with the surrounding environment. Beyond DARPA, the company anticipates its technology can be used by the general public, but it will take a few years for that to happen. The product is undergoing clinical trials as part of the US FDA approval process. Possible applications might be gaming, watching big-screen 3-D movies, and future augmented reality devices superimposing images on reality. According to Innovega, the technology may be available to the public towards the end of 2014.

Explore further: Engineering students invent virtual fitting room for online shoppers (w/ video)

More information: Innovega Inc.

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User comments : 11

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kuntur2k
1.5 / 5 (6) Apr 15, 2012
Besides its benefits, this technology (mentioned at this forum two years ago) will make cheaters happy, and educators will suffer to find ways to counter-act.
powerup1
3.8 / 5 (5) Apr 15, 2012
I wonder how this will compare to the Google glasses?
THENAMEIS_____
5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2012
This will be far better than the google glasses..
Caliban
2.9 / 5 (7) Apr 15, 2012
As any contact lens wearer will tell you, they can be troublesome at times, and usually when you need them most. add to that the fact that any number of things can happen to put eyeglasses out of whack on your face, and suddenly you understand that that this tech isn't nearly so robust as it is made to sound in this publicity piece.

While under a barage of fire, or while running, jumping, and dodging --how, pray tell, is our "warfighter" to stop, remove helmet, glasses, retrieve eyedrops from somewhere in the "warfighterkit", introduce two or three drops to each eye(this could require multiple applications to soothe whatever it is that is ailing), stash the drops, and replace helmet and glasses, and them resume warfighting?

I suppose, by then, our "warfighter" would at least be able to clearly image the nature and extent of the wounds taken while thus engaged. Perhaps the near-vision microdisplay will show a set of rapidly deteriorating vital signs and the Lord's Prayer?

Caliban
2.2 / 5 (6) Apr 15, 2012
OK,OK --it is true that the helmet might not have to be removed, but I just can't see these devices used in any kind of infantry action.

No, at best, perhaps gunners, pilots, and other stationary, shielded personnel could make good use of these devices, but that will be the extent of their deployment.

But that certainly won't prevent Innovega from marketing ths boondoggle to DARPA, or DARPA's spending of untold millions/billions on bullshit Hollywood tech with --at best-- limited tactical value.

wealthychef
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 15, 2012
Besides its benefits, this technology (mentioned at this forum two years ago) will make cheaters happy, and educators will suffer to find ways to counter-act.

This will only be a problem if educators continue to see students as containers to pour facts into and test their recall. While I agree that recalling facts from human memory is important to education, it's less important in our digital age and the focus needs to shift to telling students how to analyze, filter and use information once obtained.
Hoganloaf
3.3 / 5 (4) Apr 15, 2012
This looks great, but I can't help but wish that they had come up with a more creative name than "iOptik".
Sanescience
3 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2012
I'm with Caliban on using something like this in the field. I have the image from Starship Troopers during the live fire exercise when a cadet takes his helmet off and gets popped. It will eventually have to be something like micro lasers scanning images onto your retina via sturdy head gear. The device will be able to adjust for movement by sensing where the pupil is via reflection when it misses the pupil and will be able to both know where your looking, and compensate for vibration much like how digital cameras without optical stabilization do.

However DARPA does not exclusively develop for in the field soldiers, and may gain useful insight into how to use a version of this technology that is certainly coming. I would say most likely that the contracts are in the "study" context and not some kind of full deployment level of expense, and it doesn't have to be combat troops using it, maybe logistics or equipment repair or command, etc.
Eoprime
3 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2012
As any contact lens wearer will tell you..

I will tell you that I have no problem with my lenses while beeing outdoor/diving/whatever for weeks... all without fancy eyedrops
And even without changing.
I BADLY WANT THOSE LENSES! :) waited years for something like that to show up.
61SD
not rated yet Apr 16, 2012
As any contact lens wearer will tell you..

I will tell you that I have no problem with my lenses while beeing outdoor/diving/whatever for weeks... all without fancy eyedrops
And even without changing.
I BADLY WANT THOSE LENSES! :) waited years for something like that to show up.


Try putting on and wearing a gas mask for any length of time (upwards of 4 hours) while wearing contact lenses. There are many reasons why contacts aren't allowed on the battlefield. One being that in a gas mask, contacts dry out very quickly. Leading to the second reason, that it isn't always possible to fix contacts. And completely impossible when the only way to do so is to contaminate yourself. I would take the glasses any day of the week.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2012
As any contact lens wearer will tell you..

I will tell you that I have no problem with my lenses while beeing outdoor/diving/whatever for weeks... all without fancy eyedrops
And even without changing.
I BADLY WANT THOSE LENSES! :) waited years for something like that to show up.


@eo,
Yeah, I have very, very few problems, either, but I'm not trotting across a hot, glaring, dusty landscape, in a stiff breeze, with heavy smoke and ash from several piles of burning tires and a few housefires drifting about, while I'm dodging the aforementioned antipersonnel rounds. Again, just as a for instance.
I don't care how well you would ordinarily tolerate contact lenses, once you have introduced sweat, flying grit and particulate matter from the combustion of ANY type of material, then you will experience EXCRUCIATING difficulties with contact lenses, regardless of their relative level of technological advancement.

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